"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘Domestic Policy’

UPSTREAM, They Know Much More About You Than You Think

In Uncategorized on August 1, 2013 at 8:18 pm
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The headquarters of the National Security Agency, Fort Meade, Maryland

Oldspeak: “Within days of Snowden’s documents appearing in The Guardian and The Washington Post, revealing several of the National Security Agency’s extensive domestic surveillance programs, bookstores reported a sudden spike in the sales of George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel 1984. On Amazon.com, the book made the “Movers & Shakers” list and skyrocketed 6,021 percent in a single day. Written sixty-five years ago, it described a fictitious totalitarian society where a shadowy leader known as “Big Brother” controls his population through invasive surveillance. “The telescreens,” Orwell wrote, “have hidden microphones and cameras. These devices, alongside informers, permit the Thought Police to spy upon everyone….” -James Bamford

“The most awesome and near omniscient surveillance network ever created by man has been revealed in much of its grotesquely invasive corptalitarian horror. And what was American’s response? CONSUME.  Sales of the script to the horror show we are currently living Orwell’s “1984″ exploded 6,000 PERCENT. No critical thoughts given to the personal telescreens/tracking device/listening device/thought recorder/microwave radiation emitter a.k.a. smart phones. Sheeple literally responded to news that all their actions on the internet are being watched, stored and analyzed, by buying a dystopian novel on the internet. All those people should consider themselves a “selector”. :-)  More and more I’m seeing all these hip sexy cool invitations to “share everything” via your telescreen. Incessant exhortations to use your telescreen to buy everything, check things, secure things, pay things, scan things, tweet things, like things, post things, photograph things, record things, ask things, watch things, play things, listen to things, control devices, read, get medical advice, report crime, inform on others, etc, etc, etc…. Never mind that your ever expanding constellation of ever more convenient and personalizable apps are watching youSoon, your televisions, dvr’s and video games will watch you too. Keep consuming, keep providing free content, that make it ever easier to target more marketing at you to buy more shit you don’t need. When will we wake from our hyperconsumptive soma coma?. I’ll tell you one thing though, somebody is making an ass ton of money collecting and analyzing this exponentially expanding flow of digital content. ” -OSJ

By James Bamford @ The New York Review Of Books:

In mid-May, Edward Snowden, an American in his late twenties, walked through the onyx entrance of the Mira Hotel on Nathan Road in Hong Kong and checked in. He was pulling a small black travel bag and had a number of laptop cases draped over his shoulders. Inside those cases were four computers packed with some of his country’s most closely held secrets.

Within days of Snowden’s documents appearing in The Guardian and The Washington Post, revealing several of the National Security Agency’s extensive domestic surveillance programs, bookstores reported a sudden spike in the sales of George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel 1984. On Amazon.com, the book made the “Movers & Shakers” list and skyrocketed 6,021 percent in a single day. Written sixty-five years ago, it described a fictitious totalitarian society where a shadowy leader known as “Big Brother” controls his population through invasive surveillance. “The telescreens,” Orwell wrote, “have hidden microphones and cameras. These devices, alongside informers, permit the Thought Police to spy upon everyone….”

Today, as the Snowden documents make clear, it is the NSA that keeps track of phone calls, monitors communications, and analyzes people’s thoughts through data mining of Google searches and other online activity. “Any sound that Winston made, above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up by it,” Orwell wrote about his protagonist, Winston Smith.

There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to live—did live, from habit that became instinct—in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.

Of course the US is not a totalitarian society, and no equivalent of Big Brother runs it, as the widespread reporting of Snowden’s information shows. We know little about what uses the NSA makes of most information available to it—it claims to have exposed a number of terrorist plots—and it has yet to be shown what effects its activities may have on the lives of most American citizens. Congressional committees and a special federal court are charged with overseeing its work, although they are committed to secrecy, and the court can hear appeals only from the government.

Still, the US intelligence agencies also seem to have adopted Orwell’s idea of doublethink—“to be conscious of complete truthfulness,” he wrote, “while telling carefully constructed lies.” For example, James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, was asked at a Senate hearing in March whether “the NSA collect[s] any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans.” Clapper’s answer: “No, sir…. Not wittingly.”

Three months later, following the revelations of the phone-log program in which the NSA collects telephone data—the numbers of both callers and the length of the calls—on hundreds of millions of Americans, Clapper switched to doublethink. He said that his previous answer was not a lie; he just chose to respond in the “least untruthful manner.” With such an Orwellian concept of the truth now being used, it is useful to take a look at what the government has been telling the public about its surveillance activities over the years, and compare it with what we know now as a result of the top secret documents and other information released by, among others, the former NSA contract employee Edward Snowden.

Looking back, the NSA and its predecessors have been gaining secret, illegal access to the communications of Americans for nearly a century. On July 1, 1920, a slim balding man in his early thirties moved into a four-story townhouse at 141 East 37th Street in Manhattan. This was the birth of the Black Chamber, the NSA’s earliest predecessor, and it would be hidden in the nondescript brownstone. But its chief, Herbert O. Yardley, had a problem. To gather intelligence for Woodrow Wilson’s government, he needed access to the telegrams entering, leaving, and passing through the country, but because of an early version of the Radio Communications Act, such access was illegal. With the shake of a hand, however, Yardley convinced Newcomb Carlton, the president of Western Union, to grant the Black Chamber secret access on a daily basis to the private messages passing over his wires—the Internet of the day.

For much of the next century, the solution would be the same: the NSA and its predecessors would enter into secret illegal agreements with the telecom companies to gain access to communications. Eventually codenamed Project Shamrock, the program finally came to a crashing halt in 1975 when a Senate committee that was investigating intelligence agency abuses discovered it. Senator Frank Church, the committee chairman, labeled the NSA program “probably the largest governmental interception program affecting Americans ever undertaken.”

As a result of the decades of illegal surveillance by the NSA, in 1978 the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) was signed into law and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) came into existence. Its purpose was, for the first time, to require the NSA to get judicial approval for eavesdropping on Americans. Although the court seldom turned down a request for a warrant, or an order as it’s called, it nevertheless served as a reasonable safeguard, protecting the American public from an agency with a troubling past and a tendency to push the bounds of spying unless checked.

For a quarter of a century, the rules were followed and the NSA stayed out of trouble, but following the September 11 attacks, the Bush administration decided to illegally bypass the court and began its program of warrantless wiretapping. “Basically all rules were thrown out the window and they would use any excuse to justify a waiver to spy on Americans,” I was told by Adrienne J. Kinne, who in 2001 was a twenty-four-year-old voice intercept operator who conducted some of the eavesdropping. She or her superiors did not have to get a warrant for each interception. “It was incredibly uncomfortable to be listening to private personal conversations of Americans,” she said. “And it’s almost like going through and stumbling and finding somebody’s diary and reading it.”

All during this time, however, the Bush administration was telling the American public the opposite: that a warrant was obtained whenever an American was targeted. “Anytime you hear the United States government talking about a wiretap, it requires—a wiretap requires a court order,” President George W. Bush told a crowd in 2004. “Nothing has changed, by the way. When we’re talking about chasing down terrorists, we’re talking about getting a court order before we do so.” After exposure of the operation by The New York Times in 2005, however, rather than strengthen the controls governing the NSA’s spying, Congress instead voted to weaken them, largely by codifying into the amendment to FISA what had previously been illegal.

At the same time, rather than calling for prosecution of the telecom officials for their role in illegally cooperating in the eavesdropping program, or at least a clear public accounting, Congress simply granted them immunity not only from prosecution but also from civil suits. Thus, for nearly a century, telecom companies have been allowed to violate the privacy of millions of Americans with impunity.

With the arrival of the Obama administration, the NSA’s powers continued to expand at the same time that administration officials and the NSA continued to deceive the American public on the extent of the spying. In addition to the denial I have mentioned by James Clapper, General Keith Alexander, the NSA director, also blatantly denied that his agency was keeping records on millions of Americans. In March 2012, Wired magazine published a cover story I wrote on the new one-million-square-foot NSA data center being built in Bluffdale, Utah. In the article, I interviewed William Binney, a former high-ranking NSA official who was largely responsible for automating the agency’s worldwide eavesdropping network. He quit the agency in 2001 in protest after he saw the system designed mainly for intelligence about foreign threats turned inward on the American public. In the interview, he told how the agency was tapping into the country’s communications and Internet networks. He revealed that it also was secretly obtaining warrantless access to billions of phone records of Americans, including those of both AT&T and Verizon. “They’re storing everything they gather,” he said.

In the months afterward, General Alexander repeatedly denied Binney’s charges. “No…we don’t hold data on US citizens,” he told Fox News, and at an Aspen Institute conference he said, “To think we’re collecting on every US person…that would be against the law.” He added, “The fact is we’re a foreign intelligence agency.”

But the documents released by Edward Snowden show that the NSA does have a large-scale program to gather the telephone records of every Verizon customer, including local calls, and presumably a similar agreement with AT&T and other companies. These are records of who called whom and when, not of the content of the conversations, although the NSA has, by other methods, access to the content of conversations as well. But the NSA has, on a daily basis, access to virtually everyone’s phone records, whether cell or landline, and can store, data-mine, and keep them indefinitely. Snowden’s documents describing the PRISM program show that the agency is also accessing the Internet data of the nine major Internet companies in the US, including Google and Yahoo.

Snowden’s documents and statements add greatly to an understanding of just how the NSA goes about conducting its eavesdropping and data-mining programs, and just how deceptive the NSA and the Obama administration have been in describing the agency’s activities to the American public. In a video interview conducted in his room in the Mira Hotel, Snowden elaborated on the extent of the NSA’s capabilities. “Any analyst at any time can target anyone, any selector, anywhere,” he said.

Where those communications will be picked up depends on the range of the sensor networks and the authorities that that analyst is empowered with. Not all analysts have the ability to target everything. But I sitting at my desk certainly had the authorities to wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant to a federal judge to even the president, if I had a personal e-mail [address].

What Snowden was discussing was the way in which analysts at the NSA can place such things as names, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses on target lists, thus causing communications containing those “selectors” to be intercepted. He seemed to be indicating—although this remains to be officially confirmed—that while under FISA, a court order would be required to enter an American on a target list, analysts have the capability to unilaterally bypass the procedure by simply listing a name or e-mail address on the target list. To understand what Snowden is saying, it is necessary to elaborate a bit on the way the NSA conducts its eavesdropping.

Bamford_2-081513.jpgEdward Gorey Charitable Trust

Drawing by Edward Gorey

During the past decade, the NSA has secretly worked to gain access to virtually all communications entering, leaving, or going through the country. A key reason, according to the draft of a top secret NSA inspector general’s report leaked by Snowden, is that approximately one third of all international telephone calls in the world enter, leave, or transit the United States. “Most international telephone calls are routed through a small number of switches or ‘chokepoints’ in the international telephone switching system en route to their final destination,” says the report. “The United States is a major crossroads for international switched telephone traffic.” At the same time, according to the 2009 report, virtually all Internet communications in the world pass through the US. For example, the report notes that during 2002, less than one percent of worldwide Internet bandwidth—i.e., the international link between the Internet and computers—“was between two regions that did not include the United States.”

Accessing this data is possible through a combination of techniques. Through the most effective of them, the NSA can gain direct access to the fiber-optic cables that now carry most kinds of communications data. According to a slide released by Snowden, the cable-tapping operation is codenamed “UPSTREAM” and it is described as the “collection of communications on fiber cables and infrastructure as data flows past.” It also appears to be both far more secret and far more invasive than the PRISM program revealed by Snowden. Although PRISM gives the NSA access to data from the individual Internet companies, such as Yahoo, Google, and Microsoft, the companies claim that they don’t give the agency direct access to their servers. Through UPSTREAM, however, the agency does get direct access to fiber-optic cables and the supporting infrastructure that carries nearly all the Internet and telephone traffic in the country.

As part of its cable-tapping program, the NSA has secretly installed what amount to computerized filters on the telecommunications infrastructure throughout the country. According to the leaked inspector general’s report, the agency has secret cooperative agreements with the top three telephone companies in the country. Although the report disguises their names, they are likely AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint:

NSA determined that under the Authorization it could gain access to approximately 81% of the international calls into and out of the United States through three corporate partners: Company A had access to 39%, Company B 28%, and Company C 14%.

The filters are placed at key junction points known as switches. For example, much of the communications—telephone and Internet—to and from the northwestern United States pass through a nearly windowless nine-story building at 611 Folsom Street in San Francisco. This is AT&T’s regional switching center. In 2003, the NSA built a secret room in the facility and filled it with computers and software from a company called Narus. Established in Israel by Israelis, and now owned by Boeing, Narus specializes in spyware, equipment that examines both the metadata—the names and addresses of people communicating on the Internet—and the content of digital traffic such as e-mail as it zooms past at the speed of light.

The agency also has access to the telephone metadata—the numbers called and calling and other details—of all Americans. Phone calls from telephone numbers that have been selected as targets can be routed directly to the agency and recorded. According to William Binney, the former NSA senior official, the NSA has established between ten and twenty of these secret rooms at telecom company switches around the country.

It is this daily access to the telephone metadata of all Americans without FISA warrants that the NSA and the Office of National Intelligence tried to hide when they falsely denied that the agency had surveillance records on millions of Americans. For years, the agency also had a nationwide bulk e-mail and Internet metadata collection and storage program, although that was ended in 2011 for “operational and resource reasons,” according to the director of national intelligence.

But according to a joint statement issued on July 2 by senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall, the real reason the program was shut down was that the NSA was “unable” to prove the usefulness of the operation. “We were very concerned about this program’s impact on Americans’ civil liberties and privacy rights,” they said, “and we spent a significant portion of 2011 pressing intelligence officials to provide evidence of its effectiveness. They were unable to do so, and the program was shut down that year.” The senators added, “It is also important to note that intelligence agencies made statements to both Congress and the [FISA court] that significantly exaggerated this program’s effectiveness. This experience demonstrates to us that intelligence agencies’ assessment of the usefulness of particular collection program—even significant ones—are not always accurate.”

Speaking on Meet the Press, Glenn Greenwald, a lawyer and journalist who wrote the story about the NSA’s collection of phone data for The Guardian, also mentioned a still-secret eighty-page FISA court opinion that, he said, criticized the NSA for violation of both the Fourth Amendment and the FISA statute. According to Greenwald, “it specifically said that they are collecting bulk transmissions, multiple conversations from millions of Americans…and that this is illegal.” The NSA, he said, “planned to try to accommodate that ruling.” On the same program, Representative Mike Rogers, Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, confirmed that the FISA court had issued a critical opinion and said that the NSA had “figured out how to correct that.”

According to The Economist of June 29, “the NSA provided congressional intelligence committees with what it said were over 50 cases in which the programmes disclosed by Mr. Snowden had contributed to the ‘understanding and, in many cases, disruption’ of terrorist plots in America, and over 20 other countries.” In a recent New York Review blog post, Kenneth Roth, director of Human Rights Watch and a former federal prosecutor, commented that “upon scrutiny” many of the plots referred to by the NSA

appear in fact to have been uncovered not because of the mass collection of our metadata but through more traditional surveillance of particular phone numbers or e-mail addresses—the kinds of targeted inquiries that easily would have justified a judicial order allowing review of records kept by communications companies or even monitoring the content of those communications.

At the AT&T facility on Folsom Street and the other locations, fiber-optic cables containing millions of communications enter the building and go into what’s known as a beam-splitter. This is a prism-type device that produces a duplicate, mirror image of the original communications. The original beams, containing Internet data, continue on to wherever they were originally destined. The duplicate beam goes into Room 641A, the NSA’s secret room one floor below, a discovery made by another whistleblower, AT&T technician Mark Klein. There the Narus equipment scans all the Internet traffic for “selectors”—names, e-mail address, words, phrases, or other indicators that the NSA wants to know about. Any message containing a selector is then retransmitted in full to the NSA for further analysis, as are the contents of phone calls selected. With regard to targeted phone numbers, the agency supplies them to the company, which then gives the NSA access to monitor them.

The selectors are inserted by remote control into the Narus equipment by NSA analysts sitting at their desks at the agency’s headquarters at Fort Meade in Maryland or at dozens of locations around the world. What Snowden seemed to be saying in his interview is that as long as certain analysts have an e-mail address, for example, they can simply enter that information into the system and retrieve the content of the e-mails sent from and to that address. There are, by his account, no judicial checks and balances to assure that the targeting of an American has been approved by a FISA court order and not just by NSA employees. These claims by Snowden, and other revelations from the documents he released, should be investigated by either a select committee of Congress, such as the Church Committee, or an independent body, like the 9/11 Commission.

While UPSTREAM captures most of the telecommunications—about 80 percent according to Binney—there are still gaps in the coverage. That is where the PRISM program comes in. With PRISM, the NSA is able to go directly to the communications industry, including the major Internet companies, to get whatever they miss from UPSTREAM. According to the top secret inspector general’s report, the “NSA maintains relationships with over 100 US companies,” adding that the US has the “home field advantage as the primary hub for worldwide telecommunications.”

According to a recent slide released by Snowden, the NSA on April 5, 2013, had 117,675 active surveillance targets in the program and was able to access real-time data on live voice, text, e-mail, or Internet chat services, in addition to analyzing stored data.

In the end, both UPSTREAM and PRISM may be only the tips of a much larger system. Another new document released by Snowden says that on New Year’s Eve, 2012, SHELLTRUMPET, a metadata program targeting international communications, had just “processed its One Trillionth metadata record.” Started five years ago, it noted that half of that trillion was added in 2012. It also noted that two more new programs, MOONLIGHTPATH and SPINNERET, “are planned to be added by September 2013.”

One man who was prescient enough to see what was coming was Senator Frank Church, the first outsider to peer into the dark recesses of the NSA. In 1975, when the NSA posed merely a fraction of the threat to privacy it poses today with UPSTREAM, PRISM, and thousands of other collection and data-mining programs, Church issued a stark warning:

That capability at any time could be turned around on the American people and no American would have any privacy left, such [is] the capability to monitor everything: telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn’t matter. There would be no place to hide. If this government ever became a tyranny, if a dictator ever took charge in this country, the technological capacity that the intelligence community has given the government could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back, because the most careful effort to combine together in resistance to the government, no matter how privately it was done, is within the reach of the government to know. Such is the capability of this technology…. I don’t want to see this country ever go across the bridge. I know the capacity that is there to make tyranny total in America, and we must see to it that this agency and all agencies that possess this technology operate within the law and under proper supervision, so that we never cross over that abyss. That is the abyss from which there is no return.

Church sounds as if he had absorbed the lessons of 1984. From the recent evidence, they are still to be learned.

—July 12, 2013

Emergency “Continuity Of Government” Plans Currently In Effect Suspend Normal Laws & Legal Process: Is This The REAL Reason For Government Spying On Americans?

In Uncategorized on June 11, 2013 at 4:54 pm

http://theoldspeakjournal.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/be4f0-shadow_govt_logo.jpg?w=604Oldspeak: “The United States has been in a declared state of emergency from September 2001, to the present… That declared state of emergency has continued in full force and effect from 9/11 to the present. President Bush kept it in place, and President Obama has also… Simply by proclaiming a national emergency… President Bush activated some 500 dormant legal provisions, including those allowing him to impose censorship and martial law… Of the 54 National Security Presidential Directives issued by the [George W.] Bush Administration to date, the titles of only about half have been publicly identified. There is descriptive material or actual text in the public domain for only about a third. In other words, there are dozens of undisclosed Presidential directives that define U.S. national security policy and task government agencies, but whose substance is unknown either to the public or, as a rule, to Congress.”  -Washington’s Blog

“Viewed in the context of the government behaviours being exhibited: Indefinite detention, summary executive order executions,  general contempt for,  zealous prosecution of and jailing of journalists, suppression of dissent, state censorship, suspended rights to petition, assemble & speak, state propaganda, compromised system checks and balances, constant mass surveillance; this makes a lot of sense. We’re in living under a form of stealth martial law. How else would our government feel justified and within the law to do enact all these extra-constitutional measures? The “threat of terrorism” has been used to activate hundreds of little known “emergency” legal provisions. Without debate in pubic or  knowledge of the public… Why are we not entitled to know about our Shadow Government that seems to be making so much secret & anti-democratic policy?” -OSJ

By Washington’s Blog:

Are Emergency Plans Meant Only for Nuclear War the Real Justification for Spying?

To understand the scope and extent of government spying on all Americans – and the reasons for such spying – you have to understand what has happened to our Constitutional form of government since 9/11.

State of Emergency

The United States has been in a declared state of emergency from September 2001, to the present. Specifically, on September 11, 2001, the government declared a state of emergency. That declared state of emergency was formally put in writing on 9/14/2001:

A national emergency exists by reason of the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center, New York, New York, and the Pentagon, and the continuing and immediate threat of further attacks on the United States.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, I hereby declare that the national emergency has existed since September 11, 2001 . . .

That declared state of emergency has continued in full force and effect from 9/11 to the present. President Bush kept it in place, and President Obama has also.

For example, on September 9, 2011, President Obama declared:

CONTINUATION OF NATIONAL EMERGENCY DECLARED BY PROC. NO. 7463

Notice of President of the United States, dated Sept. 9, 2011, 76 F.R. 56633, provided:

Consistent with section 202(d) of the National Emergencies Act, 50 U.S.C. 1622(d), I am continuing for 1 year the national emergency previously declared on September 14, 2001, in Proclamation 7463, with respect to the terrorist attacks of
September 11, 2001, and the continuing and immediate threat of
further attacks on the United States.

Because the terrorist threat continues, the national emergency declared on September 14, 2001, and the powers and authorities
adopted to deal with that emergency must continue in effect
beyond September 14, 2011. Therefore, I am continuing in effect for an additional year the national emergency that was declared on September 14, 2001, with respect to the terrorist threat.

This notice shall be published in the Federal Register and
transmitted to the Congress.

The Washington Times wrote on September 18, 2001:

Simply by proclaiming a national emergency on Friday, President Bush activated some 500 dormant legal provisions, including those allowing him to impose censorship and martial law.

The White House has kept substantial information concerning its presidential proclamations and directives hidden from Congress. For example, according to Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists Project on Government Secrecy:

Of the 54 National Security Presidential Directives issued by the [George W.] Bush Administration to date, the titles of only about half have been publicly identified. There is descriptive material or actual text in the public domain for only about a third. In other words, there are dozens of undisclosed Presidential directives that define U.S. national security policy and task government agencies, but whose substance is unknown either to the public or, as a rule, to Congress.

Continuity of Government

Continuity of Government (“COG”) measures were implemented on 9/11. For example, according to the 9/11 Commission Report, at page 38:

At 9:59, an Air Force lieutenant colonel working in the White House Military Office joined the conference and stated he had just talked to Deputy National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley. The White House requested (1) the implementation of continuity of government measures, (2) fighter escorts for Air Force One, and (3) a fighter combat air patrol over Washington, D.C.

Likewise, page 326 of the Report states:

The secretary of defense directed the nation’s armed forces to Defense Condition 3, an increased state of military readiness. For the first time in history, all nonemergency civilian aircraft in the United States were grounded, stranding tens of thousands of passengers across the country. Contingency plans for the continuity of government and the evacuation of leaders had been implemented.

The Washington Post notes that Vice President Dick Cheney initiated the COG plan on 9/11:

From the bunker, Cheney officially implemented the emergency continuity of government orders . . .

(See also footnotes cited therein and this webpage.)

CNN reported that – 6 months later – the plans were still in place:

Because Bush has decided to leave the operation in place, agencies including the White House and top civilian Cabinet departments have rotated personnel involved, and are discussing ways to staff such a contingency operation under the assumption it will be in place indefinitely, this official said.

Similarly, the Washington Post reported in March 2002 that “the shadow government has evolved into an indefinite precaution.” The same article goes on to state:

Assessment of terrorist risks persuaded the White House to remake the program as a permanent feature of ‘the new reality, based on what the threat looks like,’ a senior decisionmaker said.

As CBS pointed out, virtually none of the Congressional leadership knew that the COG had been implemented or was still in existence as of March 2002:

Key congressional leaders say they didn’t know President Bush had established a “shadow government,” moving dozens of senior civilian managers to secret underground locations outside Washington to ensure that the federal government could survive a devastating terrorist attack on the nation’s capital, The Washington Post says in its Saturday editions.

Senate Majority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) told the Post he had not been informed by the White House about the role, location or even the existence of the shadow government that the administration began to deploy the morning of the Sept. 11 hijackings.

An aide to House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) said he was also unaware of the administration’s move.

Among Congress’s GOP leadership, aides to House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (Ill.), second in line to succeed the president if he became incapacitated, and to Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (Miss.) said they were not sure whether they knew.

Aides to Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W. Va.) said he had not been told. As Senate president pro tempore, he is in line to become president after the House speaker.

Similarly, the above-cited CNN article states:

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, said Friday he can’t say much about the plan.

“We have not been informed at all about the role of the shadow government or its whereabouts or what particular responsibilities they have and when they would kick in, but we look forward to work with the administration to get additional information on that.”

Indeed, the White House has specifically refused to share information about Continuity of Government plans with the Homeland Security Committee of the U.S. Congress, even though that Committee has proper security clearance to hear the full details of all COG plans.

Specifically, in the summer 2007, Congressman Peter DeFazio, on the Homeland Security Committee (and so with proper security access to be briefed on COG issues), inquired about continuity of government plans, and was refused access. Indeed, DeFazio told Congress that the entire Homeland Security Committee of the U.S. Congress has been denied access to the plans by the White House.

(Or here is the transcript).

The Homeland Security Committee has full clearance to view all information about COG plans.

DeFazio concluded: “Maybe the people who think there’s a conspiracy out there are right”.

University of California Berkeley Professor Emeritus Peter Dale Scott points out that – whether or not COG plans are still in effect – the refusal of the executive branch to disclose their details to Congress means that the Constitutional system of checks and balances has already been gravely injured:

If members of the Homeland Security Committee cannot enforce their right to read secret plans of the Executive Branch, then the systems of checks and balances established by the U.S. Constitution would seem to be failing.

To put it another way, if the White House is successful in frustrating DeFazio, then Continuity of Government planning has arguably already superseded the Constitution as a higher authority.

Indeed, continuity of government plans are specifically defined to do the following:

  • Top leaders of the “new government” called for in the COG would entirely or largely go into hiding, and would govern in hidden locations
  • Those within the new government would know what was going on. But those in the “old government” – that is, the one created by the framers of the Constitution – would not necessarily know the details of what was happening
  • Normal laws and legal processes might largely be suspended, or superseded by secretive judicial forums
  • The media might be ordered by strict laws – punishable by treason – to only promote stories authorized by the new government

See this, this and this.

Could the White House have maintained COG operations to the present day?

I don’t know, but the following section from the above-cited CNN article is not very reassuring:

Bush triggered the precautions in the hours after the September 11 strikes, and has left them in place because of continuing U.S. intelligence suggesting a possible threat.

Concerns that al Qaeda could have gained access to a crude nuclear device “were a major factor” in the president’s decision, the official said. “The threat of some form of catastrophic event is the trigger,” this official said.

This same official went on to say that the U.S. had no confirmation — “and no solid evidence” — that al Qaeda had such a nuclear device and also acknowledged that the “consensus” among top U.S. officials was that the prospect was “quite low.”

Still, the officials said Bush and other top White House officials including Cheney were adamant that the government take precautions designed to make sure government functions ranging from civil defense to transportation and agricultural production could be managed in the event Washington was the target of a major strike.

As is apparent from a brief review of the news, the government has, since 9/11, continuously stated that there is a terrorist threat of a nuclear device or dirty bomb. That alone infers that COG plans could, hypothetically, still be in effect, just like the state of emergency is still in effect and has never been listed.

Indeed,  President Bush said on December 17, 2005, 4 years after 9/11:

The authorization I gave the National Security Agency after Sept. 11 helped address that problem in a way that is fully consistent with my constitutional responsibilities and authorities.

The activities I have authorized make it more likely that killers like these 9/11 hijackers will be identified and located in time.

And the activities conducted under this authorization have helped detect and prevent possible terrorist attacks in the United States and abroad.

The activities I authorized are reviewed approximately every 45 days. Each review is based on a fresh intelligence assessment of terrorist threats to the continuity of our government and the threat of catastrophic damage to our homeland.

During each assessment, previous activities under the authorization are reviewed. The review includes approval by our nation’s top legal officials, including the attorney general and the counsel to the president.

I have reauthorized this program more than 30 times since the Sept. 11 attacks [45 days times 30 equals approximately 4 years] and I intend to do so for as long as our nation faces a continuing threat from Al Qaeda and related groups.

The N.S.A.’s activities under this authorization are thoroughly reviewed by the Justice Department and N.S.A.’s top legal officials, including N.S.A.’s general counsel and inspector general.

In other words, it appears that as of December 2005, COG plans had never been rescincded, but had been continously renewed every 45 days.

In 2008, Tim Shorrock wrote at Salon:

A contemporary version of the Continuity of Government program was put into play in the hours after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when Vice President Cheney and senior members of Congress were dispersed to “undisclosed locations” to maintain government functions. It was during this emergency period, Hamilton and other former government officials believe, that President Bush may have authorized the NSA to begin actively using the Main Core database for domestic surveillance [more on Main Core below]. One indicator they cite is a statement by Bush in December 2005, after the New York Times had revealed the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping, in which he made a rare reference to the emergency program: The Justice Department’s legal reviews of the NSA activity, Bush said, were based on “fresh intelligence assessment of terrorist threats to the continuity of our government.”

In 2007, President Bush issued Presidential Directive NSPD-51, which purported to change Continuity of Government plans. NSPD51 is odd because:

Beyond cases of actual insurrection, the President may now use military troops as a domestic police force in response to a natural disaster, a disease outbreak, terrorist attack, or to any ‘other condition.’ Changes of this magnitude should be made only after a thorough public airing. But these new Presidential powers were slipped into the law without hearings or public debate.

  • As a reporter for Slate concluded after analyzing NSPD-51:

I see nothing in the [COG document entitled presidential directive NSPD51] to prevent even a “localized” forest fire or hurricane from giving the president the right to throw long-established constitutional government out the window

  • White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said that “because of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the American public needs no explanation of [Continuity of Government] plans”

This is all the more bizarre when you realize that COG plans were originally created solely to respond to a decapitating nuclear strike which killed our civilian leaders.   (It was subsequently expanded decades before 9/11 into a multi-purpose plan by our good friends Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. See this, this and this.)

Does COG Explain the Pervasive Spying on Americans?

5 years ago, investigative reporter Christopher Ketcham disclosed the spying which was confirmed last week by  whistleblower Edward Snowden:

The following information seems to be fair game for collection without a warrant: the e-mail addresses you send to and receive from, and the subject lines of those messages; the phone numbers you dial, the numbers that dial in to your line, and the durations of the calls; the Internet sites you visit and the keywords in your Web searches; the destinations of the airline tickets you buy; the amounts and locations of your ATM withdrawals; and the goods and services you purchase on credit cards. All of this information is archived on government supercomputers and, according to sources, also fed into the Main Core database.

Given that Ketcham was proven right, let’s see what else he reported:

Given that Ketcham was right about the basics, let’s hear what else the outstanding investigative journalist said in 2008:

There exists a database of Americans, who, often for the slightest and most trivial reason, are considered unfriendly, and who, in a time of panic, might be incarcerated. The database can identify and locate perceived ‘enemies of the state’ almost instantaneously.” He and other sources tell Radar that the database is sometimes referred to by the code name Main Core. One knowledgeable source claims that 8 million Americans are now listed in Main Core as potentially suspect. In the event of a national emergency, these people could be subject to everything from heightened surveillance and tracking to direct questioning and possibly even detention.”

***

According to one news report, even “national opposition to U.S. military invasion abroad” could be a trigger [for martial law ].

***

When COG plans are shrouded in extreme secrecy, effectively unregulated by Congress or the courts, and married to an overreaching surveillance state—as seems to be the case with Main Core—even sober observers must weigh whether the protections put in place by the federal government are becoming more dangerous to America than any outside threat.

Another well-informed source—a former military operative regularly briefed by members of the intelligence community—says this particular program has roots going back at least to the 1980s and was set up with help from the Defense Intelligence Agency. He has been told that the program utilizes software that makes predictive judgments of targets’ behavior and tracks their circle of associations with “social network analysis” and artificial intelligence modeling tools.

***

A former NSA officer tells Radar that the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, using an electronic-funds transfer surveillance program, also contributes data to Main Core, as does a Pentagon program that was created in 2002 to monitor antiwar protesters and environmental activists such as Greenpeace.

***

If previous FEMA and FBI lists are any indication, the Main Core database includes dissidents and activists of various stripes, political and tax protesters, lawyers and professors, publishers and journalists, gun owners, illegal aliens, foreign nationals, and a great many other harmless, average people.

A veteran CIA intelligence analyst who maintains active high-level clearances and serves as an advisor to the Department of Defense in the field of emerging technology tells Radar that during the 2004 hospital room drama, [current nominee to head the FBI, and former Deputy Attorney General] James Comey expressed concern over how this secret database was being used “to accumulate otherwise private data on non-targeted U.S. citizens for use at a future time.” [Snowden and high-level NSA whistleblower William Binney have since confirmed this] …. A source regularly briefed by people inside the intelligence community adds: “Comey had discovered that President Bush had authorized NSA to use a highly classified and compartmentalized Continuity of Government database on Americans in computerized searches of its domestic intercepts. [Comey] had concluded that the use of that ‘Main Core’ database compromised the legality of the overall NSA domestic surveillance project.”

***

The veteran CIA intelligence analyst notes that Comey’s suggestion that the offending elements of the program were dropped could be misleading: “Bush [may have gone ahead and] signed it as a National Intelligence Finding anyway.” But even if we never face a national emergency, the mere existence of the database is a matter of concern. “The capacity for future use of this information against the American people is so great as to be virtually unfathomable,” the senior government official says.

In any case, mass watch lists of domestic citizens may do nothing to make us safer from terrorism. Jeff Jonas, chief scientist at IBM, a world-renowned expert in data mining, contends that such efforts won’t prevent terrorist conspiracies. “Because there is so little historical terrorist event data,” Jonas tells Radar, “there is not enough volume to create precise predictions.”

***

[J. Edgar Hoover's] FBI “security index” was allegedly maintained and updated into the 1980s, when it was reportedly transferred to the control of none other than FEMA (though the FBI denied this at the time).

FEMA, however—then known as the Federal Preparedness Agency—already had its own domestic surveillance system in place, according to a 1975 investigation by Senator John V. Tunney of California. Tunney, the son of heavyweight boxing champion Gene Tunney and the inspiration for Robert Redford’s character in the film The Candidate, found that the agency maintained electronic dossiers on at least 100,000 Americans that contained information gleaned from wide-ranging computerized surveillance. The database was located in the agency’s secret underground city at Mount Weather, near the town of Bluemont, Virginia. [One of the main headquarter of COG operations.] The senator’s findings were confirmed in a 1976 investigation by the Progressive magazine, which found that the Mount Weather computers “can obtain millions of pieces [of] information on the personal lives of American citizens by tapping the data stored at any of the 96 Federal Relocation Centers”—a reference to other classified facilities. According to the Progressive, Mount Weather’s databases were run “without any set of stated rules or regulations. Its surveillance program remains secret even from the leaders of the House and the Senate.”

***

Wired magazine turned up additional damaging information, revealing in 1993 that [Oliver] North, operating from a secure White House site, allegedly employed a software database program called PROMIS (ostensibly as part of the REX 84 plan). PROMIS, which has a strange and controversial history, was designed to track individuals—prisoners, for example—by pulling together information from disparate databases into a single record. According to Wired, “Using the computers in his command center, North tracked dissidents and potential troublemakers within the United States. Compared to PROMIS, Richard Nixon’s enemies list or Senator Joe McCarthy’s blacklist look downright crude.” Sources have suggested to Radar that government databases tracking Americans today, including Main Core, could still have PROMIS-based legacy code from the days when North was running his programs.

***

Marty Lederman, a high-level official at the Department of Justice under Clinton, writing on a law blog last year, wondered, “How extreme were the programs they implemented [after 9/11]? How egregious was the lawbreaking?” Congress has tried, and mostly failed, to find out.

***

We are at the edge of a cliff and we’re about to fall off,” says constitutional lawyer and former Reagan administration official Bruce Fein. “To a national emergency planner, everybody looks like a danger to stability. There’s no doubt that Congress would have the authority to denounce all this—for example, to refuse to appropriate money for the preparation of a list of U.S. citizens to be detained in the event of martial law. But Congress is the invertebrate branch.

***

UPDATE [from Ketcham]: Since this article went to press, several documents have emerged to suggest the story has longer legs than we thought. Most troubling among these is an October 2001 Justice Department memo that detailed the extra-constitutional powers the U.S. military might invoke during domestic operations following a terrorist attack. In the memo, John Yoo, then deputy assistant attorney general, “concluded that the Fourth Amendment had no application to domestic military operations.” (Yoo, as most readers know, is author of the infamous Torture Memo that, in bizarro fashion, rejiggers the definition of “legal” torture to allow pretty much anything short of murder.) In the October 2001 memo, Yoo refers to a classified DOJ document titled “Authority for Use of Military Force to Combat Terrorist Activities Within the United States.” According to the Associated Press, “Exactly what domestic military action was covered by the October memo is unclear. But federal documents indicate that the memo relates to the National Security Agency’s Terrorist Surveillance Program.” Attorney General John Mukasey last month refused to clarify before Congress whether the Yoo memo was still in force.

Americans have the right to know whether a COG program is  still in effect, and whether the spying on our phone calls and Internet usage stems from such COG plans. Indeed, 9/11 was a horrible blow, but it was not a decapitating nuclear strike on our leaders … so COG and the state of emergency should be lifted.

If COG plans are not still in effect, we have the right to demand that “enemies lists” and spying capabilities developed  for the purpose of responding to a nuclear war be discarded , as we have not been hit by nuclear weapons … and our civilian leaders – on Capitol Hill, the White House, and the judiciary – are still alive and able to govern.

Austerity Measures, U.S. Style, Exposed

In Uncategorized on February 21, 2013 at 8:37 pm

Quarter.We have abandoned the common good. We have been stripped of our rights and voice. Corporations write our laws and determine how we structure our society. We have all become victims. There are no politicians or institutions, no political parties or courts, that are independent enough or strong enough to resist the corporate onslaught. Greater and greater numbers of human beings will be consumed. The poor, the vulnerable, the undocumented, the weak, the elderly, the sick, the children will go first. And those of us watching helplessly outside the gates will go next.” -Chris Hedges. When you understand the key purposes for Austerity Measures, referred to euphemistically in the U.S. as “Sequestration”,  “Deficit Reduction”, “Entitlement Reform”, “Fiscal Responsibility” and “Increasing payroll tax “, are to “(1) shift the burden of paying for crisis and bailouts (from the creditors/creators of the crisis), onto the total population, (2) reduce the economic footprint (privatization/monetization) of the government, and (3) reduce creditors(/crisis creators)‘ concerns about rising US debt levels.Richard Wolff, you begin to see that this urgent and well reported “debate” over Sequestration is just the latest installment of U.S. Government Kabuki Theater.  The White House and Congress twice agreed to go into sequestration in 2011.  Both sides are not talking, they are preparing for the list of cuts and positioning for the public relations disaster afterwards. There is a high probability that these cuts will go into effect. Even in the face of mountains of evidence from past and present day Europe that austerity does not enable economic growth, but does increase the potential for violence and social unrest. Austerity functions primarily as means by which the international banking cartels and the transnational corporate network ensures attractive returns on their investments/looting/fraud/market manipulation. It enriches those in the 1% at the expense of the poor, elderly, & disenfranchised. It fails to address one essential factor that accompanies the current depression. Inequality. Inequality and wealth concentration has equaled and exceeded levels reached in the last Great Depression. Raising the minimum wage a paltry $1.75 will have no significant effect on inequality or quality of life  among the nearly 1 in 2 Americans living in or near poverty.  There is no addressing of the hidden tax of  rising food prices created by the creditors/creators of the crisis’ unregulated and dangerous speculation on commodities markets. Austerity measures will actually make life significantly worse for the poor and less fortunate, creating more sick people, less housing, more hunger, less safety. This is the first in a series of  points of danger for our economy, enshrined in a series of laws which are the result of every accommodation the president has made over the last year and a half. Over the next 10 weeks, we will lurch from crisis to crisis, and the economic decision-making apparatus will remain in chaos through his deference. The “least” among us are being sacrificed. Who will be next?”

By Richard D. Wolff @ Truthout:

Austerity policies include various combinations primarily of government spending cuts and secondarily of general tax increases. Republicans and Democrats have endorsed austerity since 2010. Austerity was the result of their deal on taxes last December 31: increasing the payroll tax on wages and salaries from 4.2 to 6.2 percent. Austerity is what they are negotiating now in regard to federal spending cuts.

After 2010, with “recovery” underway for them following bailouts for them, large private capitalist interests focused on three key interests. First, they wanted to ensure that the bailouts’ costs were not paid for by higher taxes on corporations and the rich. By stressing government spending cuts and broad-based tax increases, austerity policies serve that interest. Second, they worried about crisis-heightened government economic intervention and power and wanted to reduce them back to pre-crisis levels. Austerity’s focus on reduced government spending lessens the government’s economic footprint. Third, because big banks and other large capitalists are among the major creditors of the US government, they wanted signs that their crisis-increased holdings of US debt were safe investments for them. Austerity policies provide just those signs, as we shall show.

Austerity in the US, unlike in Europe, is renamed and packaged for the public as “deficit reduction programs” or “fiscal responsibility.” Distractions such as “fiscal cliffs” and “debt ceilings” focus public attention on mere secondary details of austerity. Politicians, media and academics use such distractions to wrangle over whose taxes will go up how much and which recipients of government spending will suffer what size cuts. They do not debate austerity itself; that is, they do not debate very idea of raising mass taxes and cutting spending in a deep and long economic downturn. They do not explore the interests served and undermined by any austerity policy. So we will.

Austerity promoters repeatedly insist that the dominant economic problem today is government budget deficits. They ignore why those deficits occurred (the crisis plus bailouts). They demand that both parties and the media endorse austerity because cuts in government spending and increased taxes will reduce deficits. They hype austerity as the solution all must embrace. Otherwise, they fear, a different and dangerous logic might win popular support. In that logic, since capitalism regularly causes crises that cause deficits, another solution for deficits would be changing from capitalism to another economic system not beset by regular crises.

Austerity policies, we are told, will reduce deficits and thereby meet what “the credit market” demands. In other words, those who have lent to the US government (by buying its debt securities) want guarantees of interest and repayment. By cutting government spending and raising taxes, austerity policies redirect government funds to the government’s creditors, thereby reassuring them.

Distracting references to an anonymous “market” avoid identifying the government’s creditors. However, major creditors holding US public debt are easy to list: large banks, insurance companies, large corporations, wealthy individuals and central banks around the world. Austerity justified as satisfying “the market” in fact serves those US creditors first and foremost.

Austerity is thus the policy preferred by the private capitalist interests that (1) brought on the crisis, (2) secured the government bailouts almost exclusively for themselves, and (3) are that government’s chief creditors. Led by major banks, those interests now threaten the government (that just bailed them out) with higher interest rates or no more credit unless it imposes higher taxes (mostly on others) and reduced spending (mostly on others) to lower its deficits. Distracting struggles over “fiscal cliffs” and “debt ceilings” serve nicely to disguise the reality that both parties’ austerity policies represent and illustrate gross government subservience to large capitalists.

Austerity, US style, has its Keynesian economist critics. They point out that the United States has been able to borrow trillions at historically low interest rates through this crisis. US deficits have not worried “the market” at all. Policies should therefore not be driven by deficits. Keynesians insist that raising mass taxes and cutting spending during an economic downturn will reduce outlays on goods and services by taxpayers and government, thereby worsening unemployment. They thus ridicule the argument that austerity, by cutting deficits, will stimulate investment by capitalists.

For Keynesians, austerity is thus unneeded and counterproductive. They prefer to exit the crisis by more stimulus (lower taxes and higher government spending) funded by higher deficits. The resulting economic growth, they believe, will automatically lower government budgetary imbalance. The government can then later, if and when needed, impose tax increases and reduce government spending to shrink deficits. In a growing economy, austerity policies avoid the devastating effects they have in depressed economies (as shown by the recent histories of Greece, Portugal, the UK and others).

Setting aside the question of the validity of Keynesian arguments, they miss key purposes of austerity policies. Those policies do not primarily seek to overcome crisis or resume economic growth. Rather, as argued above, they aim chiefly to (1) shift the burden of paying for crisis and bailouts onto the total population, (2) reduce the economic footprint of the government, and (3) reduce creditors’ concerns about rising US debt levels. If austerity policies achieve these objectives, their failure to end the crisis quickly is a price that corporations and the rich are more than happy to pay (or rather, have others pay).

That Republicans and Democrats concur on austerity and differ only on its secondary details testifies to what they share. Both depend financially on capitalist corporations and their top executives. Both serve and never question capitalism. For all the victims of capitalism today – the unemployed, those foreclosed out of their homes, those with reduced job benefits and job security, students with unsustainable schooling debts and poor job prospects, millions without medical insurance, and so on – supporting those parties perpetuates their victimization.

 

Youth In Revolt: The Plague Of State-Sponsored Violence

In Uncategorized on March 20, 2012 at 4:18 pm

Oldspeak:The predominance of violence in all aspects of social life suggests that young people and others marginalized by class, race and ethnicity have been abandoned as American society’s claim on democracy gives way to the forces of militarism, market fundamentalism and state terrorism.” In a state where children are disposable, subjected to violence and threats of violence in most every aspect of their lives, programmed from birth to be nothing more than finely tuned profit generating”happiness machines”. Where 1o children a day are killed by guns (more than police killed in the line of duty) can we really be surprised by the senseless violence perpetrated on children like Trayvon Martin?

By Henry A. Giroux @ Truthout:

Young people are demonstrating all over the world against a variety of issues ranging from economic injustice and massive inequality to drastic cuts in education and public services. At the moment, these demonstrations are being met with state-sanctioned violence and insults in the mainstream media rather than with informed dialogue, critical engagement and reformed policies. In the United States, the state monopoly on the use of violence has intensified since the 1980s and, in the process, has been increasingly directed against young people, poor minorities, immigrants and increasingly women. As the welfare state is hollowed out, a culture of compassion is replaced by a culture of violence, cruelty and disposability. Collective insurance policies and social protections have given way to the forces of economic deregulation, the transformation of the welfare state into punitive workfare programs, the privatization of public goods and an appeal to individual responsibility as a substitute for civic responsibility. Under the notion that unregulated market-driven values and relations should shape every domain of human life, the business model of governance has eviscerated any viable notion of social responsibility while furthering the criminalization of social problems and cut backs in basic social services, especially for the poor, young people and the elderly.(1) Within the existing neoliberal historical conjuncture, there is a merging of violence and governance and the systemic disinvestment in and breakdown of institutions and public spheres, which have provided the minimal conditions for democracy.

As young people make diverse claims on the promise of a radical democracy, articulating what a fair and just world might be, they are increasingly met with forms of physical, ideological and structural violence. According to OccupyArrests.com, “There have been at least 6705 arrests in over 112 different cities as of March 6, 2012.”(2) Abandoned by the existing political system, young people in Oakland, California; New York City; and numerous other cities are placing their bodies on the line, protesting peacefully while trying to produce a new language, politics, long-term institutions and “community that manifests the values of equality and mutual respect that they see missing in a world that is structured by neoliberal principles.”(3) This movement is not simply about reclaiming space, but also about producing new ideas, generating a new conversation and introducing a new political language. Rejecting the notion that democracy and markets are the same, young people are calling for an end to the corporate control of the commanding institutions of politics and culture, poverty, the suppression of dissent and the permanent war state. Richard Lichtman is right in insisting that this movement should be praised for its embrace of communal democracy as well as an emerging set of shared concerns, principles and values articulated “by a demand for equality, or, at the very least, for a significant lessening of the horrid extent of inequality; for a working democracy; for the elimination of the moneyed foundation of politics; for the abolition of political domination by a dehumanized plutocracy; for the replacement of ubiquitous commodification by the reciprocal recognition of humanity in the actions of its agents.”(4) As Arundhati Roy points out, what connects the protests in the United States to resistance movements all over the globe is that young people are realizing that “they know that their being excluded from the obscene amassing of wealth of US corporations is part of the same system of the exclusion and war that is being waged by these corporations in places like India, Africa and the Middle East.”(5) Of course, Lichtman, Roy, and others believe that this is just the beginning of a movement and that much needs to be done, as Staughton Lynd argues, to build new strategies, a vast network of new institutions and public spheres, a community of trust and political organization that invites poor people into its ranks.(6)

All of these issues are important, but what must be addressed in the most immediate sense is the threat the emerging police state in the United States poses not to just the young protesters occupying a number of American cities, but also the threat it poses to democracy itself as a result of the merging of a war-like mentality and neoliberal mode of discipline and education in which it becomes difficult to reclaim the language of obligation, social responsibility and civic engagement. Unless the actions of young protesters, however diverse they may be, is understood within the language of a robust notion of the social, civic courage and the imperatives of a vital democracy, it will be difficult for the American public to resist state violence and the framing of protests, dissent and civic responsibility as un-American or, at worst, a species of criminal behavior.

While there is considerable coverage in the progressive media given to the violence being waged against the Occupy movement protesters, I want to build on these analyses by arguing that it is important to situate such violence within a broader set of categories that enables a critical understanding of not only the underlying social, economic and political forces at work in such assaults, but also allows us to reflect critically on the distinctiveness of the current historical period in which they are taking place. For example, it is difficult to address such state-sponsored violence against young people without analyzing the devolution of the social state and the corresponding rise of the warfare and punishing state. The notion of historical conjuncture is important here because it provides both an opening into the forces shaping a particular historical moment and it allows for a merging of theory and strategy. That is, it helps us to address theoretically how youth protests are largely related to a historically specific neoliberal project that promotes vast inequalities in income and wealth, creates the student loan debt bomb, eliminates much needed social programs, eviscerates the social wage and privileges profits and commodities over people. Within the United States, the often violent response to nonviolent forms of youth protests must also be analyzed within the framework of a mammoth military-industrial state and its commitment to war and the militarization of the entire society. As Tony Judt put it, “The United States is becoming not just a militarized state but a military society: a country where armed power is the measure of national greatness and war, or planning is the exemplary (and only) common project.”(7) The merging of the military-industrial complex and unbridled corporate power points to the need for strategies that address what is specific about the current warfare state and the neoliberal project and how different interests, modes of power, social relations, public pedagogies and economic configurations come together to shape its politics. Such a conjuncture is invaluable politically in that it provides a theoretical opening for making the practices of the warfare state and the neoliberal revolution visible in order “to give the resistance to its onward march, content, focus and a cutting edge.”(8) It also points to the conceptual power of making clear that history remains an open horizon that cannot be dismissed through appeals to the end of history or end of ideology.(9) It is precisely through the indeterminate nature of history that resistance becomes possible and politics refuses any guarantees and remains open. Following Stuart Hall, I want to argue that the current historical moment or what he calls the “long march of the Neoliberal Revolution,”(10) has to be understood in terms of the growing forms of violence that it deploys and reinforces. Such anti-democratic pressures and their relationship to the rising protests of young people in the United States and abroad are evident in the crisis that has emerged through the merging of governance and violence, the growth of the punishing state and the persistent development of what has been described by Alex Honneth as “a failed sociality.”(11)

The United States has become addicted to violence and this dependency is fuelled increasingly by its willingness to wage war at home and abroad. War in this instance is not merely the outgrowth of polices designed to protect the security and well-being of the United States. It is also, as C. Wright Mills pointed out, part of a “military metaphysics”(12) – a complex of forces that includes corporations, defense industries, politicians, financial institutions and universities. War provides jobs, profits, political payoffs, research funds and forms of political and economic power that reach into every aspect of society. War is also one of the nation’s most honored virtues, and its militaristic values now bear down on almost every aspect of American life.(13) As war becomes a mode of sovereignty and rule, it erodes the distinction between war and peace. Increasingly fed by a moral and political hysteria, warlike values produce and endorse shared fears as the primary register of social relations.

Shared fears and the media hysteria that feed them produce more than a culture of fear. Such hysteria also feeds the growing militarization of the police, who increasingly use their high-tech scanners, surveillance cameras and toxic chemicals on anyone who engages in peaceful protests against the warfare and corporate state. Images abound in the mainstream media of such abuses. There is the now famous image of an 84-year-old woman looking straight into a camera, her face drenched in a liquid spray used by the police after attending a protest rally. There is the image of a woman, who is two months pregnant, being carried to safety after being pepper sprayed by the police. There are the all-too-familiar images of young people being dragged by their hair across a street to a waiting police van.(14) In some cases, protesters have been seriously hurt as in the case of Scott Olsen, an Iraqi war veteran, who was critically injured in a protest in Oakland in October 2011. Too much of this violence is reminiscent of the violence used against civil rights demonstrators by the forces of Jim Crow in the fifties and sixties.(15)

The war on terror has become a war on democracy as baton-wielding cops are now being supplied with the latest military equipment imported straight from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. Military technologies once used exclusively on the battlefield are now being supplied to police departments across the nation. Drones; machine-gun-equipped armored trucks; SWAT vehicles; “digital communications equipment and Kevlar helmets, like those used by soldiers used in foreign wars.”(16) The domestic war against “terrorists” (code for young protesters) provides new opportunities for major defense contractors and corporations who “are becoming more a part of our domestic lives.”(17) As Glenn Greenwald points out, the United States since 9/11 “has aggressively para-militarized the nation’s domestic police forces by lavishing them with countless military-style weapons and other war-like technologies, training them in war-zone military tactics and generally imposing a war mentality on them. Arming domestic police forces with para-military weaponry will ensure their systematic use even in the absence of a Terrorist attack on U.S. soil; they will simply find other, increasingly permissive uses for those weapons.”(18) Of course, the new domestic para-military forces will also undermine free speech and dissent with the threat of force while simultaneously threatening core civil liberties, rights and civic responsibilities. Given that “by age 23, almost a third of Americans are arrested for a crime,” it becomes clear that in the new militarized state the view of young people as predators, a threat to corporate governance and disposable will increase as will the growth of a punishment state that acts with impunity.(19)

No longer restricted to a particular military ideology, the celebration of war-like values has become normalized through the militarization of the entire society. As Michael Geyer points out, militarization in this sense is defined as “the contradictory and tense social process in which civil society organizes itself for the production of violence.”(20) The conceptual merging of war and violence is evident in the way in which the language of war saturates the ways in which policy makers talk about waging war on drugs, poverty and the underclass. There is more at work here than the prevalence of armed knowledge and a militarized discourse; there is also the emergence of a militarized society in which “the range of acceptable opinion inevitably shrinks.”(21) But the prevailing move in American society to a permanent war status does more than promote a set of unifying symbols that embrace a survival-of-the-fittest ethic, promoting conformity over dissent, the strong over the weak and fear over responsibility; it also gives rise to a “failed sociality” in which violence becomes the most important element of power and mediating force in shaping social relationships.

As a mode of public pedagogy, a state of permanent war needs willing subjects to abide by its values, ideology and narratives of fear and violence. Such legitimation is largely provided through a market-driven culture addicted to the production consumerism, militarism and organized violence, largely circulated through various registers of popular culture that extend from high fashion and Hollywood movies to the creation of violent video games and music concerts sponsored by the Pentagon. The market-driven spectacle of war demands a culture of conformity, quiet intellectuals and a largely passive republic of consumers. But it also needs subjects who find intense pleasure in the spectacle of violence.

As the pleasure principle is unconstrained by a moral compass based on a respect for others, it is increasingly shaped by the need for intense excitement and a never-ending flood of heightened sensations. What has led to this immunity and insensitivity to cruelty and prurient images of violence? Part of this process is due to the fact that the American public is bombarded by an unprecedented “huge volume of exposure to … images of human suffering.”(22) As Zygmunt Bauman argues, there are social costs that come with this immersion of a culture of staged violence. One consequence is that “the sheer numbers and monotony of images may have a ‘wearing off’ impact [and] to stave off the ‘viewing fatigue,’ they must be increasingly gory, shocking and otherwise ‘inventive’ to arouse any sentiments at all or indeed draw attention. The level of ‘familiar’ violence, below which the cruelty of cruel acts escapes attention, is constantly rising.”(23)

Hyper-violence and spectacular representations of cruelty disrupt and block our ability to respond politically and ethically to the violence as it is actually happening on the ground. In this instance, unfamiliar violence such as extreme images of torture and death become banally familiar, while familiar violence that occurs daily is barely recognized relegated to the realm of the unnoticed and unnoticeable. How else to explain the public indifference to the violence waged by the state against nonviolent youthful protesters, who are rebelling against a society in which they have been excluded from any claim on hope, prosperity and democracy. As an increasing volume of violence is pumped into the culture, yesterday’s spine-chilling and nerve-wrenching violence loses its shock value. As the need for more intense images of violence accumulates, the moral indifference and desensitization to violence grows while matters of cruelty and suffering are offered up as fodder for sports, entertainment, news media, and other outlets for seeking pleasure.

Marked by a virulent notion of hardness and aggressive masculinity, a culture of violence has become commonplace in a society in which pain, humiliation and abuse are condensed into digestible spectacles endlessly circulated through extreme sports, reality TV, video games, YouTube postings and proliferating forms of the new and old media. But the ideology of hardness and the economy of pleasure it justifies are also present in the material relations of power that have intensified since the Reagan presidency, when a shift in government policies first took place, and set the stage for the emergence of unchecked torture and state violence under the Bush-Cheney regime. Conservative and liberal politicians alike now spend millions waging wars around the globe, funding the largest military state in the world, providing huge tax benefits to the ultra-rich and major corporations and all the while draining public coffers, increasing the scale of human poverty and misery and eliminating all viable public spheres – whether they be the social state, public schools, public transportation, or any other aspect of a formative culture that addresses the needs of the common good. State violence, particularly the use of torture, abductions and targeted assassinations, are now justified as part of a state of exception that has become normalized. A “political culture of hyper punitiveness”(24) has become normalized and accelerates throughout the social order like a highly charged electric current. Democracy no longer leaves open the importance of an experience of the common good. As a mode of “failed sociality,” the current version of market fundamentalism has turned the principles of democracy against itself, deforming both the language of freedom and justice that made equality a viable idea and political goal. State violence operating under the guise of personal safety and security, while parading species of democracy, cancels out democracy “as the incommensurable sharing of existence that makes the political possible.”(25) Symptoms of ethical, political and economic impoverishment are all around us.

Meanwhile, exaggerated violence is accelerated in the larger society and now rules screen culture. The public pedagogy of entertainment includes extreme images of violence, human suffering and torture splashed across giant movie screens, some in 3D, offering viewers every imaginable portrayal of violent acts, each more shocking and brutal than the last. The growing taste for violence can be seen in the increasing modeling of public schools after prisons, the criminalization of behaviors such as homelessness that once were the object of social protections. A symptomatic example of the way in which violence has saturated everyday life can be seen in the growing acceptance of criminalizing the behavior of young people in public schools. Behaviors that were normally handled by teachers, guidance counselors and school administrators are now dealt with by the police and the criminal justice system. The consequences have been disastrous for young people. Not only do schools resemble the culture of prisons, but young children are being arrested and subjected to court appearances for behaviors that can only be termed as trivial. How else to explain the case of the five-year-old girl in Florida who was put in handcuffs and taken to the local jail because she had a temper tantrum; or the case of Alexa Gonzales in New York who was arrested for doodling on her desk. Even worse, a 13-year-old boy in a Maryland school was arrested for refusing to say the pledge of allegiance. There is more at work than stupidity and a flight from responsibility on the part of educators, parents and politicians who maintain these laws; there is also the growing sentiment that young people constitute a threat to adults and that the only way to deal with them is to subject them to mind-crushing punishment. Students being miseducated, criminalized and arrested through a form of penal pedagogy in prison-type schools provide a grim reminder of the degree to which the ethos of containment and punishment now creeps into spheres of everyday life that were largely immune in the past from this type of state violence. The governing through crime ethic also reminds us that we live in an era that breaks young people, corrupts the notion of justice and saturates the minute details of everyday life with the threat, if not reality, of violence. This mediaeval type of punishment inflicts pain on the psyche and the body of young people as part of a public spectacle. Even more disturbing is how the legacy of slavery informs this practice given that “Arrests and police interactions … disproportionately affect low-income schools with large African-American and Latino populations,”(26) paving the way for them to move almost effortlessly through the school-to-prison pipeline. Surely, the next step will be a reality TV franchise in which millions tune in to watch young kids being handcuffed, arrested, tried in the courts and sent to juvenile detention centers. This is not merely barbarism parading as reform – it is also a blatant indicator of the degree to which sadism and the infatuation with violence have become normalized in a society that seems to take delight in dehumanizing itself.

As the social is devalued along with rationality, ethics and any vestige of democracy, spectacles of war, violence and brutality now merge into forms of collective pleasure that constitute an important and new symbiosis among visual pleasure, violence and suffering. The control society is now the ultimate form of entertainment as the pain of others, especially those considered disposable and powerless, has become the subject not of compassion, but of ridicule and amusement in America. High-octane violence and human suffering are now considered another form of entertainment designed to raise the collective pleasure quotient. Reveling in the suffering of others should no longer be reduced to a matter of individual pathology, but now registers a larger economy of pleasure across the broader culture and social landscape. My emphasis here is on the sadistic impulse and how it merges spectacles of violence and brutality with forms of collective pleasure. No society can make a claim to being a democracy as long as it defines itself through shared fears rather than shared responsibilities. Widespread violence now functions as part of an anti-immune system that turns the economy of genuine pleasure into a mode of sadism that creates the foundation for sapping democracy of any political substance and moral vitality. The prevalence of institutionalized violence in American society and other parts of the world suggests the need for a new conversation and politics that addresses what a just and fair world looks like. The predominance of violence in all aspects of social life suggests that young people and others marginalized by class, race and ethnicity have been abandoned as American society’s claim on democracy gives way to the forces of militarism, market fundamentalism and state terrorism. The prevalence of violence throughout American society suggests the need for a politics that not only negates the established order, but imagines a new one, one informed by a radical vision in which the future does not imitate the present.(27) In this discourse, critique merges with a sense of realistic hope and individual struggles merge into larger social movements. The challenge that young people are posing to American society is being met with a state-sponsored violence that is about more than police brutality; it is more importantly about the transformation of the United States from a social state to a warfare state, from a state that embraced the social contract to one that no longer has a language for community – a state in which the bonds of fear and commodification have replaced the bonds of civic responsibility and democratic vision. Until we address how the metaphysics of war and violence have taken hold on American society (and in other parts of the world) and the savage social costs it has enacted, the forms of social, political and economic violence that young people are protesting against as well as the violence waged in response to their protests will become impossible to recognize and act on.

To read other articles by Henry A. Giroux or other authors in the Public Intellectual Project, click here.

Footnotes:

1. See Loic Wacquant, “Punishing the Poor: The Neoliberal government of Social Insecurity” (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009).

2. See here.

3. Kyle Bella, “Bodies in Alliance: Gender Theorist Judith Butler on the Occupy and SlutWalk Movements,” Truthout (December 15, 2011). Online here.

4. Richard Lichtman, “Not a Revolution?,” Truthout, (December 14, 2011).

5. Arun Gupta, Arundhati Roy: “The People Who Created the Crisis Will Not Be the Ones That Come Up With a Solution,” The Guardian UK, (12/01/2011). Online here.

6. Staughton Lynd, “What is to be Done Next?,” CounterPunch, (February 29, 2012).

7. Tony Judt, “The New World Order,” The New York Review of Books 11:12 (July 14, 2005), pp. 14-18.

8. Stuart Hall, “The Neo-Liberal Revolution,” Cultural Studies, Vol. 25, No. 6, (November 2011), p. 706.

9. Daniel Bell, “The End of Ideology: On the Exhaustion of Political Ideas in the Fifties” (New York: Free Press, 1966) and the more recent Francis Fukuyama, “The End of History and the Last Man” (New York: Free Press, 2006) .

10. Stuart Hall, “The March of the Neoliberals,” The Guardian UK, (September 12, 2011), online here.

11. Alex Honneth, Pathologies of Reason (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009), p. 188.

12. C. Wright Mills, The Power Elite (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), p. 222.

13.13. See Gore Vidal, “Imperial America: Reflections on the United States of Amnesia” (New York: Nation Books, 2004); Gore Vidal, “Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace” (New York: Nation Books, 2002); Chris Hedges, “War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning” (New York: Anchor Books, 2003); Chalmers Johnson, “The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy and the End of the Republic” (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2004); Andrew Bacevich, “The New American Militarism” (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005); Chalmers Johnson, “Nemesis: The Last Days of the Republic” (New York: Metropolitan Books); Andrew J. Bacevich, “Washington Rules: America’s Path To Permanent War,” (New York, N.Y.: Metropolitan Books, Henry Hold and Company, 2010); Nick Turse, “The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives” (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2008).

14. Philip Govrevitch, “Whose Police?” The New Yorker, (11/17/11).

15. Phil Rockstroh, “The Police State Makes Its Move: Retaining One’s Humanity in the Face of Tyranny,” CommonDreams, (11/15/11). Online here.

16. Andrew Becker and G.W. Schulz, “Cops Ready for War,” RSN, (December 21, 2011). Online here.

17. Ibid.

18. Glenn Greenwald, “The Roots of The UC-Davis Pepper-Spraying,” Salon (Nov. 20, 2011). Online here.

19. Erica Goode, “Many in U.S. Are Arrested by Age 23, Study Finds,” The New York Times, (December 19, 2011) p. A15.

20. Michael Geyer, “The Militarization of Europe, 1914 – 1945,” in The Militarization of the Western World, ed. John R. Gillis (New York: Rutgers University Press, 1989), p. 79.

21. Tony Judt, “The New World Order,” The New York Review of Books 11:2 (July 14, 2005), p.17.

22. Zygmunt Bauman, “Life in Fragments” (Malden: Blackwell, 1995), p. 149.

23. Zygmunt Bauman, “Life in Fragments” (Malden: Blackwell, 1995), pp. 149-150.

24. Steve Herbert and Elizabeth Brown, “Conceptions of Space and Crime in the Punitive Neoliberal City,” Antipode (2006), p. 757.

25. Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas, “Translators Note,” in Jean-Luc Nancy, “The Truth of Democracy,” (New York, NY: Fordham University Press, 2010), p. ix.

26. Smartypants, “A Failure of Imagination,” Smartypants Blog Spot (March 3, 2010). Online here.

27. John Van Houdt, “The Crisis of Negation: An Interview with Alain Badiou,” Continent, 1.4 (2011): 234-238. Online here.

Wikileaks: Internal Report Indicates U.S. Department Of Homeland Security Monitoring Occupy Wall Street Protests

In Uncategorized on March 1, 2012 at 8:16 pm

Oldspeak:” ‘The internal DHS report emphasizes the need to “control protesters”, They talk about threats to ‘critical infrastructure’ and this fear that these protests are going to…make commerce difficult and people are going to start losing money. There is a kind of bottom line in analysis to what they’re talking about. There isn’t an emphasis on public safety in a way one would expect from a department that’s supposed to protect the homeland. It’s this sort of sense that they’re protecting somebody’s homeland, and they’re the folks who generally make all the money.Michael Hastings COINTELPRO lives on. New Department, same ole shit. Still more evidence that your government does not represent you. It represents those folks who ‘generally make all the money.’ The financial services, and myriad of other anational corporations who gamble with other people’s money, homes and livelihoods; they profit  handsomely as billions of others struggle with debt, poverty, hunger, sickness, homelessness and joblessness. The vast majority of Americans are de-politicized, minimally informed & apathetic, with has paved the way for replacement of often heralded democratic ideals with inverted totalitarianism. Democracy has been subverted by men with million-dollar smiles, and the unwitting masses clamoring for more divestment from their liberties. “

Related Stories:

Obama Administration Coordinated Local Police Crackdowns On Occupy Encampments Nationwide

Occupy Wall Street “Counterinsurgency” Has Infiltrated Protests; Seeks To Diffuse Message

FBI To Expand Domestic Surveillance Powers As Details Emerge Of Its Spy Campaign Targeting American Activists

By Allison Kilkenny @ In These Times:

Rolling Stone’s Michael Hastings last night posted a story on an internal DHS report entitled “SPECIAL COVERAGE: Occupy Wall Street,” dated October of last year. The five-page report, part of five million newly leaked documents obtained by Wikileaks, sums up the history of the movement and assesses its “impact” on the financial services and government facilities.

In an interview on Citizen Radio, Hastings talked about the monitoring by DHS and also the leaked emails from Stratfor, a leading private intelligence firm Hastings describes as the “shadow CIA.”

The process of combing through the huge amount of leaked documents has only just begun, but Hastings considers the revelation that the government was keeping tabs on OWS to be the biggest news so far to come out of the latest dump.

The monitoring, or spying (depending on how generous one is feeling), process included DHS scouring OWS-related Twitter feeds.

“[DHS] was following all of the social networking activity that was going on among Occupy Wall Street,” says Hastings. “Now, I’m sure this is going to be spun tomorrow as this continues to grow that, oh, it’s just benign, DHS just used open source material to do this, and that’s true, but the question is: why is a large government bureaucracy who’s mandated to protect the homeland…monitoring very closely a peaceful political protest movement? They’re not monitoring the Democratic National Committee, they’re not monitoring Young Republican meetings. They’re monitoring Occupy Wall Street.”

The report emphasizes the need to “control protesters,” terminology Hastings finds troubling, along with DHS’s assertion that OWS will likely become more violent. Hastings calls that prediction “quite a leap,” as there is no evidence so far that the overwhelmingly peaceful movement is prone to become violent.

“[The report] names all the sort of groups [DHS is] worried about, one being Anonymous, this hacktivist group, but it also names the other people in Occupy Wall Street: labor unions, student groups,” Hastings says.

One might expect to read some hand-wringing over public safety concerns in a government document, and yet the DHS document appears to be more concerned with protecting the mechanisms of the financial sector than in ensuring the safety of citizens who are exercising their First Amendment rights.

“They talk about threats to ‘critical infrastructure’ and this fear that these protests are going to…make commerce difficult and people are going to start losing money. There is a kind of bottom line in analysis to what they’re talking about. There isn’t an emphasis on public safety in a way one would expect from a department that’s supposed to protect the homeland. It’s this sort of sense that they’re protecting somebody’s homeland, and they’re the folks who generally make all the money.”

This same business-over-people bias is present in the second major leak involving the Stratfor emails. “When you go look at the back-and-forth, it’s all about, well, we have to protect lower Manhattan so the bankers can get to work on time.”

Hastings talks about two troubling tracks: In the DHS case, the U.S. government monitoring activist groups, and in the Stratfor case, large corporations paying a private intelligence firm to monitor other activist groups.

Dow Chemicals had Stratfor analyze the activities of Bhopal activists such as the Yes Men, who famously pranked the company by impersonating a Dow Chemical executive and publicly apologizing on the BBC for the Bhopal disaster that killed 8,000 people.

The list of Stratfor’s corporate clients is an impressive one, including Dow Chemicals and Coca-Cola. Clients are willing to pay the firm $40,000 for a subscription to Stratfor’s services (and additional huge sums of money for more services,) because the company bills itself as a private CIA, privy to high-level intelligence access.

“You have the DOW Chemicals situation, you have Coca-Cola hiring Stratfor to go after animal rights activists, to sort of keep tabs on them, and then also the question is: why would Stratfor have this Department of Homeland Security document, right? And the answer to that is Stratfor’s clients, or clearly Stratfor saw a business opportunity in keeping track, and figuring out how to handle protesters. In fact, in the email record…they’re talking about different tactics in lower Manhattan about, well, the streets are narrow down there, so if they push the protesters this way, or that way, that’s a better way to catch them. They’re drilling down into the best ways to kind of protect the financial services who are some of their clients.”

On Jan. 26, 2011, Fred Burton, the vice president of Stratfor, fired off an excited email to his colleagues: “Text Not for Pub. We have a sealed indictment on Assange. Pls protect.”

The question was: who did Burton mean by “we”?

“It’s like the Big Lebowski, right? The royal We,” says Hastings.

What Burton meant by “we” was the U.S. government.

“We know that the Department of Justice had been investigating Assange, and playing this game of oftentimes not explicitly saying what they were doing, but sort of threatening they would be doing this espionage investigation. We know that they’ve interviewed people in a grand jury, and then a few weeks ago with the Bradley Manning pre-trial that they were actually trying to make this espionage case against Assange,” says Hastings. “Burton claims that there in fact a secret U.S. indictment against Assange related, essentially, to espionage. That’s pretty big news.”

Hastings is braced for all of the typically condescending and dismissive remarks to come rolling in from the beltway in the wake of these latest leaks. In fact, the derision has already begun. One editor at The Atlantic called Wikileaks “a joke,” and dismissed the Stratfor emails out of hand.

Hastings expects others to say there’s no difference between a private intelligence firm and a newspaper or news bureau.

“I think that’s totally wrong. Journalists have sources and informants, but also our mission is to share that information with the public so the citizenry can make more informed decisions. Stratfor’s mission is to gather information so it can sell it to the highest bidder so corporations can essentially make more profit and get a competitive edge on their opponents,” he says.

That kind of knee-jerk dismissiveness strikes of bad journalism, according to Hastings. While no cheerleader for Wikileaks – during the interview, Hastings admitted there’s a lot of stuff one can criticize Wikileaks about, particularly the practice of releasing large amounts of data that hasn’t been reviewed very carefully – he still finds the overall work done by the group extremely newsworthy.

“What news organization has had a bigger impact than Wikileaks? Iraq war logs, Afghan war logs, the Cablegate. These are important stories. This is news. DHS was monitoring Occupy Wall Street. That’s a story, and it’s a significant story. We’re talking about Occupy Wall Street: one of the biggest grassroots, political movements that we’ve seen in a generation and the government’s response to that.”

One of the most worrying aspects to the Stratfor story is the privatizing of yet another typically goverment-only function. Like Blackwater, here is another shadowy private agency doing the work usually done by the U.S. government, a recipe, as we’ve learned time and time again, for unaccountability and disaster.

Also, Stratfor is ripe for the revolving door effect.

“It’s a chance for people who worked in government in these various intelligence agencies to, once they leave, to have lucrative positions where they’re able to — in the same way some politicians become lobbyists to ply off their old contacts — to have these great, well-paying positions where they can use their former intelligence contacts and sell their services in the corporate world,” says Hastings.

To naysayers claiming there’s nothing wrong with former government officials capitalizing on their particular skill sets, Hastings responds, “Once you start spying on activists, and peaceful protesters, then I would say that’s very troubling.”

Obama White House Has Weakened More Lobbyist-Opposed Health, Public Safety Regulations Than Bush Administration

In Uncategorized on December 2, 2011 at 5:22 pm

Oldspeak:”A new report shows that despite a campaign pledge to get lobbyists out of Washington, the Obama White House has weakened regulation in favor of corporate interests more than the Bush administration. The report deals with issues that are of concern to every American; smog in our cities, collapsing mine shafts that kill workers in West Virginia, the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico, salmonella in peanut paste, a whole variety of public health threats that agencies of the government were set up to avoid. Unfortunately, although we expected a bright new future with President Obama, he has disappointed us in this area to a large extent, inserting politics and pandering to special interests rather than letting science and technology reign.”-RENA STEINZOR. Yet another campaign promise gone unfulfilled. Sadly, due to the frightfully inept and unelectable presidential alternatives offered by Republicans, it’s not likely Obama will be held accountable to the long list of changes for the worse he’s presided over. Moral of the story? The Corporatocracy rules, no matter who you ‘vote’ for. More change I can’t believe in.

Related Story:

“Behind Closed Doors at the White House: How Politics Trumps Protection of Public Health, Worker Safety and the Environment”

By Amy Goodman @ Democracy Now:

A new report shows that despite a campaign pledge to get lobbyists out of Washington, the Obama White House has weakened regulation in favor of corporate interests more than the Bush administration. The study, “Behind Closed Doors at the White House: How Politics Trumps Protection of Public Health, Worker Safety, and the Environment,” examines more than a thousand meetings that took place over a decade between lobbyists and a little known regulatory office, then checks to see how proposed rules were weakened to accommodate industry requests. It found the Obama White House changed rules 76 percent of the time, while Bush changed them just 64 percent of the time. EPArules were changed at a significantly higher rate — 84 percent. We speak to the report’s lead author, Rena Steinzor, professor at the University of Maryland Carey School of Law and President of the Center for Progressive Reform.

AMY GOODMAN: As we end on a new report that shows despite President Obama’s campaign pledge to get lobbyists out of Washington, the White House has weakened regulation in favor of corporate interests even more than the Bush administration. The study examines more that 1,000 meetings that took place over a decade between lobbyists and a little known regulatory office, then checks to see how proposed rules were weakened to accommodate industry requests. It found the Obama White House changed rules 76% of the time while the Bush administration changed them just 64% of the time. EPA rules were changed a significantly higher rate, 84%.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Much of this is due to the man Obama appointed to the head of House of Information and Regulatory Affairs, through which all proposed regulation must pass. Cass Sunstein is know for his academic work on the risks of overregulation. Well, for more we’re joined from Washington, D.C. by Rena Steinzor, Professor at the University of Maryland Carey School of Law and President of the Center for Progressive Reform. She’s the lead author of this exhaustive report, “Behind Closed Doors at the White House: How Politics Trumps Protection of Public Health, Worker Safety, and the Environment.” Rena, welcome to Democracy Now!. Can you talk about this report?

RENA STEINZOR: The report deals with issues that are familiar and of concern to every American; smog in our cities, collapsing mine shafts that kill workers in West Virginia, the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico, salmonella in peanut paste, a whole variety of public health threats that agencies of the government were set up to avoid. Unfortunately, although we expected a bright new future with President Obama, he has disappointed us in this area to a large extent, inserting politics and pandering to special interests rather than letting science and technology reign.

AMY GOODMAN: Rena Steinzor, the issue of the smog regulations that so blindsided the Administrator of the EPA, Lisa Jackson.

RENA STEINZOR: Yes, Lisa Jackson, was—-when she was appointed there was tremendous relief and joy in the community of public health experts and environmentalists who watch EPA. And she immediately stepped in to try and get a lot of these rules, which were mandated by Congress, back on track and promised to repair the damage that was left by George W. Bush. But, this small office in the White House, which panders to special interests, stepped in and was the president’s point person, point agency to destroy her efforts to strengthen these protections. And anyone who lives in a major American city knows Code Red days when children are not allowed to play outside because the air pollution is so bad.

AMY GOODMAN: We have 15 seconds, if you can summarize what happened.

RENA STEINZOR: Really, it is remarkable that an effort to clean up smog in American cities should be killed by an office at the White House that caters to special interests.

AMY GOODMAN: Rena Steinzor, we will link to your report, Professor at the University of Maryland Carey School of Law, President of The Center for Progressive Reform, lead author in this report, “Behind Closed Doors at the White House: How Politics Trumps Protection of Public Health, Worker Safety, and the Environment.”

 

International Monatary Fund Report: Inequality Increases National Debt

In Uncategorized on September 28, 2011 at 1:49 pm

Oldspeak: “WOW. You know it’s real when the financial arm of the Corporatocracy puts out a report that runs counter to the very corprocratic policies which have created the rampant inequality and crushing debt contagion that has gripped the planet. “This month, International Monetary Fund economists demonstrated that higher income inequality in developed countries is associated with higher domestic and foreign indebtedness. Leading economists agree that rampant inequality leads to unstable economies and depressions, and makes the middle and lower classes poorer.” Shocker. Turns out, it’s not entitlement programs, public employees’ pensions, and non-military spending that drives debt. It’s inequality, poverty, and debt creation. Could this report signal dissention in the ranks? Very little discussion of this corportate media.”

By Washington’s Blog:

 

Inequality Creates Economic Instability and Widespread Poverty

Leading economists agree that rampant inequality leads to unstable economies and depressions, and makes the middle and lower classes poorer.

Inequality Increases National Debt

This month, International Monetary Fund economists demonstrated that “higher income inequality in developed countries is associated with higher domestic and foreign indebtedness”:

kumhof1 IMF: Inequality Increases National DebtWe find (see Chart 1) thatwhat unites the experiences of the main deficit countries is a steep increase in income inequality over recent decades, as measured by the share of income going to the richest 5 percent of the country’s income distribution.

This increase in inequality has contributed to a deterioration in the richest countries’ aggregate savings-investment balances, as the poor and middle class borrowed from the rich and from foreign lenders. This, along with the other factors mentioned above, can fuel current account deficits.

***

The increase in debt happens over the decades of below-trend incomes that result from the persistent shock. In an open economy, the task of financing the bottom group’s borrowing demand following a negative income shock is shared between the domestic top group and foreigners. This enables the top group to deploy more of its higher income in domestic plant and machinery investment and consumption than would be possible in a closed economy. But externally the result is a deterioration of the current account, which peaks at more than 1 percent of GDP.

In reality, increases in income inequality are often followed by political interventions to prop up the living standards of the bottom group, whose real income is stagnating. This is generally done not by directly confronting the sources of inequality, such as declines in the collective bargaining power of the bottom group or shifts in the tax burden from the top group to the bottom group, but rather by promoting policies that cut the cost of borrowing for both individuals and financial institutions (Rajan, 2010). These policies include domestic and international financial liberalization, and they put additional downward pressure on current accounts.

kumhof2 IMF: Inequality Increases National DebtAs shown in the simulations in Chart 2 (solid line), a reduction in financial intermediation spreads leads to much lower lending rates, which draw more of the top group’s resources into financial rather than real assets. Initially this allows the bottom group to maintain a much higher consumption level. But in the long run it means the top group underinvests in real assets such as plants and machinery, and so the bottom group sees lower real wages over time. At the same time, debt-to-income ratios rise more strongly, as do current account deficits.

***

If lending is liberalized without addressing the underlying income inequalities, the result would simply be an increase in indebtedness within surplus countries (between the rich and the rest of the population), rather than vis-à-vis the rest of the world. In other words, there would be a globalized rather than a regional increase in domestic indebtedness of the poor and middle class. While this would reduce cross-border financial imbalances, it would exacerbate domestic debt-to-income ratios and thus vulnerability to crises. In the long run, there is therefore simply no way to avoid addressing the income inequality problem head-on. Financial liberalization in surplus countries buys time, but at the expense of an eventually much larger debt problem.

Conservatives and Liberals Agree: Government Should Not Worsen Inequality

Conservatives tend to be much more worried about debt than liberals. Given the fact that – as shown above – runaway inequality fuels debt, conservatives should be against policies that make inequality even worse. As I noted in July:

Inequality in the United States is at insane levels. Inequality among Americas is worse than in Egypt, Tunisia or Yemen. As NPR notes, inequality is higher in the U.S. than in many banana republics in Latin America. And social mobility is lower in America than in most European countries (and see thisthis and this).

In fact, most conservatives already are against insane levels of inequality.

Obama’s “American Jobs Act”: Why Less Is More Of The Same

In Uncategorized on September 15, 2011 at 11:51 am

President Barack Obama holds a copy of the American Jobs Act while announcing he is sending the $447 billion jobs package, his plan to create job growth, to Congress. (Photo: Philip Scott Andrews/The New York Times)

Oldspeak: “Look beyond the rhetorical wizardry.  What we got from Obama was a 2009 “Stimulus Light” proposal. This so-called “American Jobs Act” is 60% tax cuts (which don’t create jobs), half the size of the 2009 stimulus (that already wasn’t big enough to create jobs and had the NET EFFECT OF CUTTING JOBS), is too light on shovel-ready jobs (Construction and infrastructure jobs are long term. What is needed today is IMMEDIATE job creation.) Is too heavily weighted in favor of subsidies to the states (Local government laid off hundreds of thousands of workers since June 2009 despite the $263 billion in subsidies received) and does not go far enough in taxing the rich. Why is this man touring the country passionately selling a proposal that won’t work for the vast majority of the American people, and is basically another massive giveaway to the rich? Nevermind the fact that it doesn’t compel the banking cartels to lend the trillions they’re hoarding to small business owners which would create the conditions for job creation. Nor does it compel large multinational corporations to stop hoarding the trillions in tax savings they have stashed offshore to create jobs in the U.S. Obama has already bestowed the Corporatocracy with 1 TRILLION in tax cuts the past 2 years, why is he trying to give them more? Look no further than his list of campaign contributors. While the fact that legions of ordinary americans have contributed to him has been played up in corporate media, his biggest and most influential donors are wall street banks, hedge fund managers, media conglomerates, dirty energy conglomerates, big business interests, all denziens of the Corporatocracy. And what have the American people received in return? Toothless financial reform, expanded support for dirty energy policy, Business friendly health care reform, media and communications consolidation, weaker regulation, utterly ignored poor and working poor. Oh and 6 wars. Quid pro quo par excellence. More change I can’t believe in.”

By Jack Rasmus @ Truthout

On Thursday, September 8, President Obama proposed a $474 billion “Jobs Act.” What we got from Obama was a 2009 “Stimulus Light” proposal, with all the problems of the prior 2009 stimulus package in the form of inadequate magnitude of spending, wrong composition and targets and bad timing.

First, on the matter of the magnitude of spending in the proposal, some think it was bold. But put it in context; $447 billion just won’t achieve the job creation it claims. It’s once again too little for an economy the size of the US, for an economy in as deep an economic hole as it is and in an economy facing growing downward momentum at home in the context of a global economy also rapidly slipping.

In February 2009, President Obama proposed $787 billion in economic stimulus. Unemployment was about 25 million. More than two years later, after the $787 billion has been spent, unemployment (measured by the Labor Department’s U-6 rate) is still around 25 million. Why, therefore, should Obama’s latest proposals to create jobs, consisting about half the size of the 2009 stimulus, expect to create jobs when the larger stimulus did not?

Even more important than Obama’s Jobs Act’s insufficient magnitude, the composition is also seriously deficient – just as was the 2009 stimulus. Like the stimulus in 2009, it is once again overloaded in tax cuts. In fact, a greater percentage (60 percent) of the total Jobs Act is composed of tax cuts than was the 2009 stimulus (38 percent). Then and now, tax cuts simply cannot and will not create jobs, given the kind of “epic” recession in which the US economy now finds itself entrapped.

The 38 percent tax cut mix in 2009 amounted to about $300 billion in total tax reduction. That $300 billion followed a $90 billion tax cut less than nine months before in spring 2008. Another $50 billion in tax cuts was further added later in 2009-2010 in various bills and administrative actions. That’s a total of $440 billion in tax cuts. There’s more. Add to that $440 billion another $270 billion in Bush tax cut extensions in late 2010 for 2011, plus another $100 billion in this year’s payroll tax cut. Now, add the Job Act’s tax-heavy $270 additional billion. Now, we’re well over $1 trillion in tax cuts in just the past two years. And what’s been the result in jobs? Still 25 million unemployed today as in June 2009.

If someone needs still further evidence that tax cuts don’t create jobs in today’s environment, just step back a decade. In 2001-2004 George W. Bush passed another $3 trillion in tax cuts, overwhelmingly biased again toward the rich and their corporations in the form of capital gains, dividends, inheritance, business depreciation, and other corporate largesse. Over 80 percent of the $3 trillion went to the wealthiest 20 percent households and most of that to the wealthiest 5 percent and 1 percent. And what kind of job creation resulted? We had the longest jobless recession in US history up to that point. It took 46 months just to recover to the level of jobs we had before the first Bush recession in 2001.

Furthermore, most of the jobs that were created under Bush were in the finance and housing sectors of the economy at the time, which were both undergoing a boom due to speculative excesses before an eventual bust. The jobs mostly created in finance and housing had little to do with Bush’s tax cuts of 2001-2004, however. Instead, millions of jobs were being lost in manufacturing while the tax cuts were taking effect last decade.

In 2004, Bush also pushed through a bill to allow multinational corporations to repatriate their then $700 billion hoard of cash they were keeping offshore in their subsidiaries in order to avoid paying the US 35 percent corporate tax rate. The multinationals blackmailed Congress to let them pay only 5.25 percent instead of 35 percent. In exchange, they said they’d bring back the money (saving 29.75 percent for themselves) and use it to create jobs. Did they? No. They money brought back was used to buy back their stock, payout more dividends and to use for mergers and acquisitions that, in fact, resulted in fewer jobs. Now the same “game” is being proposed in Congress, except this time their offshore cash hoard is $1.2 trillion.

The historical record of the past decade is clear: tax cuts simply don’t create jobs, especially tax cuts for the rich and corporations. So, why has Obama given them $1 trillion in tax cuts the past two years and now proposes more?

But Obama’s once again tax-heavy proposal is not the only problem with his “Jobs Act.” The Jobs Act shares another deficiency with the president’s prior 2009 stimulus. It’s too heavily weighted in favor of subsidies to the states as well. The 2009 stimulus provided $264 billion in subsidies to the states. It was supposed to create jobs. It didn’t. Local government laid off hundreds of thousands of workers since June 2009 despite the $263 billion. What guarantees are there that this won’t be repeated when they’re given the added subsidies? Will they get the subsidy only if they first prove they’ve added the jobs? Don’t count on it.

Another problem with the “composition” of the Jobs Act announcement by the president is it once again repeats the promise of the 2009 stimulus that infrastructure spending will quickly create jobs. In 2009, about $100 billion was allocated to infrastructure-related spending that was supposed to create four million jobs. That didn’t happen. There were 6.4 million construction workers employed in June 2009. There are 5.5 million today. Nearly a million fewer construction jobs was the result. There just weren’t as many “shovel-ready” jobs as was claimed. Construction and infrastructure jobs are long term. What is needed today is immediate job creation. Infrastructure programs just won’t cut it, especially when they are of the minimal magnitude in Obama’s recent proposal.

Obama promised his proposals would focus on small business by subsidizing their hiring of workers for each job they create. But for small businesses to create jobs, it needs more than a partial hiring subsidy. It needs funds in addition to cover all the other costs of production. For that, small businesses need bank loans. And for two years now, they just can’t get the loans from the big banks. Bank lending to small businesses declined for 15 consecutive months after June 2009, and it’s not much better today. Obama and the Federal Reserve bailed out the big banks to the tune of $9 trillion in recent years, in the expectation they would start lending. They didn’t. They still aren’t. Like the big corporations hoarding their $2 trillion and not creating jobs, the big banks are hoarding their cash reserves as well and not lending to small businesses that might create jobs if they could get the loans. Obama would have done better to propose the federal government bypass the banks and directly loan to small businesses at 0.25 percent. After all, that’s the interest rate at which the Fed today “loans” to the big banks. No, I take that back. Actually it’s only 0.1 percent and then the Fed pays the banks 3 percent to temporarily park the free money with the Fed in the interim. What a deal: the Fed pays the big banks to take its free money.

In summary, what we got from Obama’s “Jobs Act” was more of the same in terms of poor composition (i.e. excessively tax cut heavy), poor timing (long-term infrastructure projects) and too little magnitude of spending in any event.

There’s no reason to believe that the Obama jobs package that repeats the problems of poor composition and bad timing of the 2009 stimulus – which didn’t create, although it may have saved some jobs – is going to do any better when it’s also half the size of the stimulus.

Of course, the proposed Jobs Act won’t pass anyway because the Teapublicans will oppose it. At best, they might try to cherry-pick out the business tax cuts proposed by Obama and then add even more tax cuts to the “Jobs Act” – a proposal which anyway should be appropriately renamed “The Business Tax Cut Expansion Act of 2011.”

Just a day before the president’s address, the Teapublican candidates gathered to hold their latest debate. They stumbled all over each other to see who could promise corporate America even greater tax cuts. Rick Perry even promised to end all corporate taxes. Rick Santorum promised to lower capital gains and dividends taxes to zero. Others proposed no income taxes whatsoever for earners of $200,000 income a year. Grovel for those campaign contributions, fellas. These same candidates, after proposing cutting hundreds of billions a year in tax cuts for the rich and corporations, will turn around and cry about the budget deficits and demand equivalent cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid to make up for their ever generous handouts to the wealthy.

But this kind of mercenary, Robin-Hood-in-reverse policy of “No taxes whatsoever” for the rich and their corporations is expected from the radical right. Yet, it seems Obama is being drawn into their tax-cut-for-the-rich frenzy with his proposal for yet another $270 billion in cuts. He just agreed, less than nine months ago, to give them $270 billion by extending the Bush tax cuts last December. Now, he proposes hundreds of billions of dollars more. This past year witnessed the president’s adopting their central agenda demand to cut deficits. Could he now be tailing the Teapublicans once again down the “Cut more taxes for Corporate America” road as well?

A real jobs program today would be proposals and programs to recreate, in 21st century form, a Works Progress Administration – paid for not by giving the rich and their corporations still more tax cuts, but by taxing their $2 trillion cash hoard, their $1 trillion in excess free Fed money bank reserves, their $1.2 trillion held in offshore subsidiaries and by taxing the more than $6 trillion they’ve all stashed away in their tax havens around the globe from the Cayman islands to the Seychelles to Vanuatu and, of course, Switzerland.

Politics in America today, sadly, is not about what will ensure true economic recovery and give the 25 million Americans a job. It’s about how to extend tax cuts for corporate America and its shareholder beneficiaries; it’s about how to ensure the Great American Tax Shift of recent decades is never rescinded and instead further extended; and it’s about how to make everyone else in American pay for their bailouts so that the corporations and wealthiest themselves do not have to.

Systems Collapse When The Irrational Is Considered Rational

In Uncategorized on August 13, 2011 at 4:48 pm

Oldspeak:“One of the most essential, and immutable facts of life on this planet. So basic, so simple, yet supposedly educated, thoughtful, and experienced men have systematically, intentionally and aggressively ignored it. We see the results before us. 1930′s era inequality, upward transfer and concentration of wealth, intractable debt, 6 wars, a wholly co-opted, corporatized, and corrupted political class, controlled by an unseen and unelected shadow government controlled primarily by global bankers and power brokers. ‘A great industrial nation is controlled by its system of credit. Our system of credit is concentrated. The growth of the nation, therefore, and all our activities are in the hands of a few men. We have come to be one of the worst ruled, one of the most completely controlled and dominated Governments in the civilized world no longer a Government by free opinion, no longer a Government by conviction and the vote of the majority, but a Government by the opinion and duress of a small group of dominant men.’ -Woodrow Wilson, after signing the Federal Reserve into existence. So the system collapses, the corporatocracy profits off of it, further concentrating wealth and power in their hands, leaving the People ever more vulnerable and helpless against their smiling and reassuring domination, while simultaneously depriving the People of their inalienable rights to protest, dissent and resist. I fear only when the seductive and alluring artifice of this cosmetic, consumption, competition, communitainment, and copulation-driven unreality that’s been engineered for us to exist in starts to fall away will the People consciously awaken to actual reality, and by then, it will be too late.  There’s a question that I find rattling around in my head when I walk the streets of New York, with millions bustling by blissfully oblivious to reality…. ‘What happens when it all falls down? When this entirely unsustainable way of life we hold so dear, the infinite growth model, the technology, the incessant communitainment distractions, the destruction in the name of peace, the convenience, the plentiful food, water, and energy, what happens when all that is no longer sustainable and goes away?’ More of us need to devote more time and energy to answering those questions because the time is fast approaching when we will have no choice but to.  “Ignorance is Strength.“, “Freedom is Slavery.” “War is Peace.

Related Video:

Bill Moyers PBS “The Secret Government” – 1987 

 

Related Story:

A Hidden World Growing Beyond Control

By Danny Schecter @ Disinformation:

Oh thank you, Wikipedia, for this definition:

“Irrationality is cognition, thinking, talking or acting without inclusion of rationality. It is more specifically described as an action or opinion given through inadequate reasoning, emotional distress, or cognitive deficiency. The term is used, usually pejoratively, to describe thinking and actions that are, or appear to be, less useful or more illogical than other more rational alternatives.”

And what about this one? Market Psychology?  This term is defined in the Investopedia this way:

“The overall sentiment or feeling that the market is experiencing at any particular time. Greed, fear, expectations and circumstances are all factors that contribute to the group’s overall investing mentality of sentiment.”

Q: What do we have when we put the two together?

A: The current madness and market mayhem.

S&P’s downgrade is being blamed for the market panic even though all the business media expected a downgrade and initially minimized its potential impact. The ratings agency blamed the government’s failure to deal with the debt including the stalemate in Congress.

The Republicans, predictably blamed Obama and the Democrats went after the Tea Party as the culprits behind the market plunge. But then, investors who at first denied that a downgrade would be significant overreacted to it by pumping more money into government treasuries adding to government debt.

The Comedy Channel’s Jon Stewart’s sensible reaction: “are you f*cking kidding me?”

Does this make any sense?

We are taught to think of businessmen and their minions as absolute worshipers of objective truth as they allegedly practice “due diligence” to confirm underlying facts and insure that their decisions are based on research and thoughtful decisions.

That’s what we are taught—but is that what they do?

In fact, the “smartest guys in the room” as the Enronians were called proved to be the dumbest, buying into a warped worldview, and then, believing their own hype leading to decisions that brought the house down.

And that’s what happens again and again, over and over, as panic seizes The Street followed by a herd of decision makers making bad decisions.

Paul Farrell has written about this phenomenon on Marketwatch.

He speaks of all the too-greedy-to-fail fatheads running Wall Street? And, unfortunately, Main Street America’s 95 million irrational and self-sabotaging investors

Yes, all of us! We’re Americans. Don’t confuse us with the facts, with reality. We’re the greatest in history, a legend in our own minds. And a rapidly mutating virus is spreading this lethal pandemic far beyond the shores of Lake Wobegon. Yes, folks, the “Lake Wobegon Effect” is hard-wired in America’s brain, an illusion of superiority, a smug arrogance where each knows we are the best, the chosen ones.

Warning: The Lake Wobegon Effect is the single best summary of today’s stock market psychology, high frequency trading, behavioral economics theories and the new science of irrationality … and it’s sucking the life out of America’s soul. Here, listen to more of these arrogant musings surfacing everywhere from deep in our collective brains.

So forget all of our devices, our forever present blackberries, iPhones, iPads and Bloomberg terminals with their enhanced graphics and multiple sources. Alas, there’s no panic button that gives you a quick dose of financial history, perspective or context. Our hi-tech world often leads to repeating low-tech mistakes in a speeded up environment driven byall those dazzling terminals. TVscreens blazing and the pundits buzzing.

Farrell reminds us of a psychological game called “The Invisible Gorilla.”

He calls it “one of the most famous psychological demos ever. Subjects are shown a video, about a minute long, of two teams, one in white shirts, the other in black shirts, moving around and passing basketballs to one another. They are asked to count the number of aerial and bounce passes made by the team wearing white, a seemingly simple task.”

Stop. Test yourself before you read on. What does “The Invisible Gorilla” study tell you about the brains of folks gambling in Wall Street’s casinos? Where billions of shares, trillions of dollars, stocks, bonds, derivatives trade daily? What’s “invisible” to you?”

Institutionalized Irrationality—perhaps even insanity— helped cause the financial crisis as the federal inquiry commission pointed out quoting an appraiser who watched the real estate industry underwrite loans with no collateral over and over again:

“I see a lot of irrationality,” he added. He said he was unnerved because people were saying, “It’s different this time”—a rationale commonly heard before previous collapses.”

Many writers of distinction could see the irrational trumping the rational coming, as I wrote in my book Plunder that came out a month before the 2008 crash.

I quoted Mark Twain, America’s greatest man of letters, He once asked, “Why shouldn’t truth be stranger than fiction? Fiction, after all, has to make sense.” (His novella, The Man Who Corrupted Hadleyburg, was written while he was in Europe on the run from creditors.)

Fast forward a century or more as business and political leaders alike try to make sense of a relatively sudden and unexpected market meltdown in the summer of 2007 then again in 2008 and then again this past week.

Ultimately perhaps Twain’s insight will lead to great novels that will capture the corruption of the underlying culture that allowed so many financial manipulations and so much greed, avarice, and irrationality in this era in the way that great writers of economic upheaval in America like Upton Sinclair, John Dos Passos, or Jack London castigated theirs.

It seems to have always been true, as a friend who watched his multi- ethnic city of Sarajevo implode into a bloody genocidal war in Bosnia years ago confided to me, “Only fiction has to be plausible. Real life has no such constraint.”

As a journalist with perhaps less fictional imagination than I need, I can only try to probe deeply into some of the forces that took our economy down in such an unexpected way at a time when our national leaders were looking elsewhere and thought they saw the only threat to our country coming from terrorists hiding in caves in far away lands.

They – and I include among them, representatives of both parties, and most of our mass media – ignored cries for help from victims of predatory lenders dating back into the 1990s, and, then, for years warnings from David Walker, the Comptroller of our Currency and head of the Government Accounting Office (GAO) that our growing debt burden could lead to a sudden collapse threatening our national security. He had been labeled “Dr. Gloom” for his sobering prognostications. In February, 2008, he stepped down from government, frustrated by his inability to promote changes.

A closer look, usually in times of crisis, offers a window into another kind of financial world, a world of panic and fear, where irrationality is the order of the day, an irrationality that goes by the name of “Market Psychology.”

Forget the bulls or the bears…this is a world of sharks deeply in need of shrinks.

When things go well, the wizards of Wall Street are anointed by the media as geniuses. When they don’t, you get Time Magazine’s condescending putdown of “Wall Street’s mad scientists blowing up the lab again.”

This kind of humor seems out-of-place when we are talking about what many fear has lead to the collapse or at least a severe wounding of the global economy with millions of jobless and homeless victims who believed in the system until it failed them.

And yet, as we saw in the great manufactured budget stalemate in Washington, members of Congress were and still are prepared to trigger a collapse in the name of a naïve but rigid ideology.

Some of us argue with them thinking our facts can refute theirs but at bottom, fanaticism is not neutralized by rational argument. You need countervailing power and a willingness to fight for another vision.

Filmmaker and News Dissector Danny Schechter edits Mediachannel.org.

America In Decline

In Uncategorized on August 12, 2011 at 5:05 pm

  Oldspeak:” ‘American decline is in no small measure self-inflicted. The comic opera in Washington this summer, which disgusts the country and bewilders the world, may have no analogue in the annals of parliamentary democracy.  The spectacle is even coming to frighten the sponsors of the charade. Corporate power is now concerned that the extremists they helped put in office may in fact bring down the edifice on which their own wealth and privilege relies, the powerful nanny state that caters to their interests. By shredding the remnants of political democracy, the financial institutions lay the basis for carrying the lethal process forward – as long as their victims are willing to suffer in silence.’-Noam Chomsky. Quickest and least painful ways to eliminate U.S. debt that aren’t being discussed? Withdraw from foreign wars, slash the ‘defense budget, nationalize health care, cut subsidies for dirty energy (oil, natural gas, nuclear, coal) and invest heavily in clean energy (wind, solar, wave, geothermal, hydrogen, elecrtic) , end tax breaks for corporations and the top 1% and institute a financial transactions tax. Unfortunately none of these common sense solutions will be seriously explored with a government for the corporatocracy, by the corporatocracy.

By Noah Chomsky @ Truthout:

 

“It is a common theme” that the United States, which “only a few years ago was hailed to stride the world as a colossus with unparalleled power and unmatched appeal is in decline, ominously facing the prospect of its final decay,” Giacomo Chiozza writes in the current Political Science Quarterly.The theme is indeed widely believed. And with some reason, though a number of qualifications are in order. To start with, the decline has proceeded since the high point of U.S. power after World War II, and the remarkable triumphalism of the post-Gulf War ’90s was mostly self-delusion.

Another common theme, at least among those who are not willfully blind, is that American decline is in no small measure self-inflicted. The comic opera in Washington this summer, which disgusts the country and bewilders the world, may have no analogue in the annals of parliamentary democracy.

The spectacle is even coming to frighten the sponsors of the charade. Corporate power is now concerned that the extremists they helped put in office may in fact bring down the edifice on which their own wealth and privilege relies, the powerful nanny state that caters to their interests.

Corporate power’s ascendancy over politics and society – by now mostly financial – has reached the point that both political organizations, which at this stage barely resemble traditional parties, are far to the right of the population on the major issues under debate.

For the public, the primary domestic concern is unemployment. Under current circumstances, that crisis can be overcome only by a significant government stimulus, well beyond the recent one, which barely matched decline in state and local spending – though even that limited initiative probably saved millions of jobs.

For financial institutions the primary concern is the deficit. Therefore, only the deficit is under discussion. A large majority of the population favor addressing the deficit by taxing the very rich (72 percent, 27 percent opposed), reports a Washington Post-ABC News poll. Cutting health programs is opposed by overwhelming majorities (69 percent Medicaid, 78 percent Medicare). The likely outcome is therefore the opposite.

The Program on International Policy Attitudes surveyed how the public would eliminate the deficit. PIPA director Steven Kull writes, “Clearly both the administration and the Republican-led House (of Representatives) are out of step with the public’s values and priorities in regard to the budget.”

The survey illustrates the deep divide: “The biggest difference in spending is that the public favored deep cuts in defense spending, while the administration and the House propose modest increases. The public also favored more spending on job training, education and pollution control than did either the administration or the House.”

The final “compromise” – more accurately, capitulation to the far right – is the opposite throughout, and is almost certain to lead to slower growth and long-term harm to all but the rich and the corporations, which are enjoying record profits.

Not even discussed is that the deficit would be eliminated if, as economist Dean Baker has shown, the dysfunctional privatized health care system in the U.S. were replaced by one similar to other industrial societies’, which have half the per capita costs and health outcomes that are comparable or better.

The financial institutions and Big Pharma are far too powerful for such options even to be considered, though the thought seems hardly Utopian. Off the agenda for similar reasons are other economically sensible options, such as a small financial transactions tax.

Meanwhile new gifts are regularly lavished on Wall Street. The House Appropriations Committee cut the budget request for the Securities and Exchange Commission, the prime barrier against financial fraud. The Consumer Protection Agency is unlikely to survive intact.

Congress wields other weapons in its battle against future generations. Faced with Republican opposition to environmental protection, American Electric Power, a major utility, shelved “the nation’s most prominent effort to capture carbon dioxide from an existing coal-burning power plant, dealing a severe blow to efforts to rein in emissions responsible for global warming,” The New York Times reported.

The self-inflicted blows, while increasingly powerful, are not a recent innovation. They trace back to the 1970s, when the national political economy underwent major transformations, ending what is commonly called “the Golden Age” of (state) capitalism.

Two major elements were financialization (the shift of investor preference from industrial production to so-called FIRE: finance, insurance, real estate) and the offshoring of production. The ideological triumph of “free market doctrines,” highly selective as always, administered further blows, as they were translated into deregulation, rules of corporate governance linking huge CEO rewards to short-term profit, and other such policy decisions.

The resulting concentration of wealth yielded greater political power, accelerating a vicious cycle that has led to extraordinary wealth for a fraction of 1 percent of the population, mainly CEOs of major corporations, hedge fund managers and the like, while for the large majority real incomes have virtually stagnated.

In parallel, the cost of elections skyrocketed, driving both parties even deeper into corporate pockets. What remains of political democracy has been undermined further as both parties have turned to auctioning congressional leadership positions, as political economist Thomas Ferguson outlines in the Financial Times.

“The major political parties borrowed a practice from big box retailers like Walmart, Best Buy or Target,” Ferguson writes. “Uniquely among legislatures in the developed world, U.S. congressional parties now post prices for key slots in the lawmaking process.” The legislators who contribute the most funds to the party get the posts.

The result, according to Ferguson, is that debates “rely heavily on the endless repetition of a handful of slogans that have been battle-tested for their appeal to national investor blocs and interest groups that the leadership relies on for resources.” The country be damned.

Before the 2007 crash for which they were largely responsible, the new post-Golden Age financial institutions had gained startling economic power, more than tripling their share of corporate profits. After the crash, a number of economists began to inquire into their function in purely economic terms. Nobel laureate Robert Solow concludes that their general impact may be negative: “The successes probably add little or nothing to the efficiency of the real economy, while the disasters transfer wealth from taxpayers to financiers.”

By shredding the remnants of political democracy, the financial institutions lay the basis for carrying the lethal process forward – as long as their victims are willing to suffer in silence.

(Noam Chomsky’s most recent book is ”9-11: Tenth Anniversary.” Chomsky is emeritus professor of linguistics and philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass.)

© 2011 Noam Chomsky


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